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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 872


Dr CHARLESWORTH(10.02) —Because the adversary system seems to operate in this place, it is anathema to do so, but I must say that on the many occasions when I have listened to the now shadow shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), I have appreciated his understanding of his former portfolio. Indeed, the lucid and logical dissertations that he has made on many occasions in this place have nearly convinced me of that on more than one occasion. Unfortunately for his sake, he has been relegated to the B-grade. Perhaps this is just an indication of rampant Liberal Party factionalism, but there was much good in what he said tonight. I think that the problem comes down to whether he would have done it if he had had the chance. Perhaps that is something that is being faced up to by his Party at the moment.

I thought it might be salutary on this occasion, having been a member of this place for a couple of years and having watched the goings-on, to look back on what I have seen. One comes here with all sorts of expectations, but over time those expectations become tempered with reality, and one's idealism probably becomes tempered with pragmatism. So inevitably frustrations occur-frustrations about this place, the way in which it operates and about the system. I suppose the first and most obvious thing that came to my notice when I became a member of this place was the obscenity of travelling 20 or 25 times a year across the country to visit Canberra. Common sense and logic have prevailed in that regard. Not only are we saving money but we now have a much more efficient sitting pattern in this place. The procedures of the House, of course, to those who are newly initiated, are always a source of interest. It is interesting to know that two or three days in every year are spent in divisions and quorums in this place. It seems to me there must be a more efficient and streamlined way in which the operations of the House can be undertaken. Clearly, the Standing Committee on Procedure, which has just been set up, will look into that and it is hoped that there will be some improvement in that area.

The second frustration about this job is the political process in which we find ourselves. While it is not perfect, many of us who entered this place at the beginning of the last Parliament were hopeful that there would be significant electoral reform and that, over time, there would be a simpler and fairer system. A committee was set up and recommendations were made. Those recommendations translated themselves into legislation. On 1 December, all that was tested at the Federal election. I am sure that the legislation had the desired effect in relation to the Senate, but clearly for the House of Representatives there was an abnormally high informal vote, and no doubt in some marginal electorates that was significant in the final result. I remember my colleague the former honourable member for Casey, who went very close to retaining his seat. In fact, the informal vote was his undoing. I hope that with that experience optional preferential voting, something I have believed in for some time, will find some credence in this place.

I also take this opportunity to thank all of those in the electorate of Perth who have assisted me. Indeed, our result in the Perth electorate was the best of any in the metropolitan area for our Party. Those who worked and organised for me have my most heartfelt thanks for their support.

I suppose the other aspect of the adversary system that any newcomer finds dramatic in its dimensions is the belief that one always has to oppose what is thought of, what is going on and what the Government is proposing. Perhaps the most disappointing issue in this regard is the assets test which we have seen toing and froing across this House for some time. The assets test made economic and social sense and was, I thought, something that could have been endorsed by both sides of this House.

While in government many members on the other side of the House supported a needs based system of support, but how quickly they changed when in opposition. We knew in government that there would be a political cost. We knew that the Opposition might try to generate fear in the community about this issue. We also knew that it was economic sense and was reasoned, and that it had to be done at a time when our population was aging. While this Government held fast to its principles, our opponents searched around for anomalies and exceptions and engaged in a fear and misinformation campaign. Indeed, they are still doing it. I will be interested to see, in three years time, whether the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) will reaffirm his commitment to abolish this test when the economic consequences of such a decision will be even more significant. The scaremongering and the scandalous way in which this was handled is outlined in the Australian Pensioner of September 1984. The Australian Pensioner is not a hotbed of socialist doctrine by any stretch of the imagination. I think it crystalises the Opposition's stance on this issue when it says:

Opposition politicians, certain sectors of the media and certain so-called pensioners' representatives have resorted to just about everything in their campaign against the assets test-even to the point of suggesting that a type of social security Gestapo will be created to body-search pensioners and ransack their homes to make sure they are not hiding any valuable assets.

The Australian social security system has never operated this way and there is no reason to believe that it will start to do so now.

So how do those opposed to the proposed test justify their hysterical outpourings? They do it, they say, in the name of pensioners' rights.

Well, pensioners do have rights, and the first of those is the right to be told the truth; the right to be informed, not misinformed.

If those opposed to the assets test have a legitimate case to put, then let them put it honestly and openly. Don't play on the ignorance, fear and insecurity of this most vulnerable group.

No Opposition which sets out to win a point by creating such anxiety in a community can ever be regarded as worthy of governing that community.

No individual or organisation which uses misinformation as a means of building support to suit their own ends can ever honestly be regarded as representing pensioners. If anything, they are misrepresenting them.

Perhaps I should say that credit should be given to the former Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard). Earlier in the day I asked the Parliamentary Library to go through all his speeches and Press releases with regard to the assets test. I found only a passing reference from one of those members on the other side who is perhaps the most lengthy orator in this place. Clearly, he supported the assets test and was done over in the shadow Cabinet.

Perhaps the greatest task of this Government is to dispel the myth of our opponents-the myth that has been perpetrated in the past and continues to be pushed. The rhetoric of the past and the action of the past have not tallied up. Honourable members opposite were the great free marketeers. These were the people who would deregulate. These were the champions of enterprise. They are still saying that that is what they stand for, but they cannot be believed. Just like Kim Hughes, they do not have the runs on the board. The difference between Kim Hughes and them, of course, is that next season he will play with the great talent he has and he will be back in the team. Kim Hughes has had one bad season and they have had seven. Unfortunately for honourable members opposite, the person who has taken over as Prime Minister has had two good years.

What did those great free marketeers and deregulators, these champions of enterprise do? Did they float our currency? Did they actively set about deregulating the financial structure? Did they initiate the entry of foreign banks? Were they the ones who brought about taxation reform to restore incentive? They said that they would sell Trans Australia Airlines and deregulate air travel. They gave us the two-airlines agreement and effectively put a strait-jacket on that industry. No, these great free marketeers and deregulators, these champions of enterprise, failed.

But honourable members do not have to believe me. I can quote what was said by the shadow Attorney-General, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown). Interestingly, just about a week ago he is reported as having said this about the Fraser Government:

But we never seemed to have time to talk about where Australia was going; about the falling standard of living of the ordinary Australian; about how we could give them a good and secure future; about how we could encourage new industries in Australia; and how we could get rid of the dead hand of government, our Government, that was stifling initiative and taxing us into oblivion.

Indeed, these great deregulators, these champions of free enterprise failed. The honourable member for Menzies is also reported as saying:

We actively and wrongly opposed the breaking up of the Telecom . . . did little to encourage deregulation or competition in the finance industry---

The previous Government is condemned by a person who was within its own ranks. The truth is that we have a mixed economy and it is necessary for any government to find a balance between providing services and cutting fat and stimulating enterprise. Conservative governments failed for 30 out of 35 years. It is a difficult task but finally we have a Government that is prepared to take it on. Indeed, I feel very hopeful that the next three years will see this Government continue in that direction to a greater extent.

I would like to speak about two things very briefly which perhaps are the most pressing domestic problems that face us. The first is, of course, unemployment and in this respect one must again look at the Opposition rhetoric. The Opposition shadow spokesman says: 'We will clear away the myths and get to the reality'. Members of the Opposition talk about deregulating youth wages. They talk about the terrible public sector and about how all growth has been occurring in that sector. But how in practical terms do they think they are going to solve this problem? There is no substance in what they have said. They tell us to wait and see what their policy will be. The reality is, of course, that there was a massive wage push associated with the destruction of centralised wage fixation by the Fraser Government. This was the catalyst for the recession that we have experienced.

The reality was that unemployment under the Fraser Government was at a level of 10.3 per cent. It is now at 8.3 per cent. The reality was that under the Fraser Government jobs were being lost at the rate of 250,000 a year. Since this Government has come to office 360,000 new jobs have been created. In addition, there has been a drop of 5 per cent in youth unemployment since the July 1983 figure was released. Indeed, the annual growth in the private sector has been increasing.

Finally, let me say something very briefly about what we might see as a necessary evil in our society, and that is taxation. If we want to demand services we must all consider the level of taxation. Again, the free enterprise people, the deregulators and the free marketeers, could not even deliver tax indexation. For over 30 years the system lost its progressiveness. Over time it has destroyed incentive. The only incentive that exists is that to avoid paying taxation. Indeed, honourable members opposite did their very best to assist those who wanted to do this. At the end of this year nearly two and a half million Australians will be paying tax at the marginal rate of 46 cents in the dollar. Not only are taxes higher but also they are unfair and the burden is falling on the middle and low income earners. The aim of this Government is to restore progressiveness to the taxation system, to release the burden on low and middle income earners and perhaps to renew the incentive to produce rather than directing effort to avoidance. It is a difficult task and many sectional interests will have something to say. They will lobby very heavily. The political opportunists will snipe at us. But it is too important for us to do badly. The right tax package is perhaps the most fundamental thing to our continued growth and development.

Debate interrupted.