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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1504

Mr STAPLES(12.18) —If there is a failing of the Hawke Labor Government it is that it does not remind the Australian people enough of the monstrous injustices and maladministration of the Fraser Liberal-National Party Government and its coalition predecessors. The wasted opportunities, the narrow, short-sighted, quick fix and the patronage of decaying social and economic structures are all well-established hallmarks of Liberal-National Party policy in government. If this country is suffering from unemployment, we must look at those who ran this country for 31 of the last 36 years, or nearly nine out of every ten years in that time. It is the ineptitude of these former conservative governments which allowed our factories to turn into industrial museums and which, with the ordinary taxpayers' money, through investment allowances and other ineptitudes, sent billions of dollars of work and industrial development to the United States of America, Germany, Britain and Japan. It was the former Ministers of these Liberal-National Party governments who now criticise this Government's short period of office, which is still spoken of in months and not years. It is the Liberal-National Party governments which have led this country into the economic quicksand. The billions of dollars of interest on overseas borrowings that the taxpayer must now bear are a direct result of the gross ineptitude of the Fraser Government and its Ministers, many of whom now sit on the Opposition front and back benches pretending to be economic saints and gurus.

The Hawke Government, by any comparison, has achieved an economic recovery unparalleled in the Australian post-war experience. In a mere 22 months, 341,000 jobs have been created because of direct government involvement in programs such as the community employment program, through the success of the prices and income accord, through the consultation and consensus processes of the Economic Planning Advisory Council, the Business Council of Australia and the now mostly forgotten but underestimated success of the National Economic Summit Conference. It took the Fraser Government seven years to achieve the same thing while it was trying to fight inflation first. What a joke! While it was fighting inflation first by putting people out of work and raking up massive overseas borrowings for future generations to support, the inflation rate kept going up and up and the unemployment figures kept going up and up until they exceeded three-quarters of a million people, with many hundreds of thousands more in hidden unemployment. Even with such job growth and economic growth, industrial disputation, except in neo-fascist governed States such as Queensland, is at a record low in Australia today.

I will not go through all the economic comparisons now. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), during Question Time this week, has already magnificently exposed the glaring comparison by any standards between the success achieved by this Government and the failure of the former Liberal-National Party Government and its remnants sitting opposite. If one really stretched mercy one could begin to forgive those opposite for their gross ineptitude, but what they have done to the lives of millions of Australians today is quite unforgivable because it was done with their full knowledge while in government. Up to three million people in Australia now live in poverty. The life of one person in every five is restricted in opportunity, basic comfort, security, nutrition, health and justice. Every time the issue of poverty is raised by a member of the Government, those on the other side, in their arrogance, smirk. Those same people who so sanctimoniously took their Christian Bible in their hands for the swearing in ceremony in this House as a badge of their righteousness deny the first principles of Christianity-care for your fellow human beings, especially those who cannot protect themselves. Their golden rule is not 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'; the golden rule of the members of the Liberal and National parties is 'Whoever has the gold makes the rules'.

Poverty is the greatest blight and restriction upon this country. It affects us all, directly or indirectly, whether rich or poor. Before those opposite chortle 'Why doesn't the Government not do something', let us look at the extent of poverty as it grew under their patronage. In 1968 the top 10 per cent of income earners in Australia had 10 times the income of the bottom 10 per cent. By 1982, a mere 14 years later, for every $1,000 paid to the poor, the rich received $56,000. Apart from three years under the Whitlam Government, when there were significant steps to reduce poverty in this country, the onus for this regressive redistribution of wealth lies upon those opposite. They cannot get away from it. One has only to go back to the beginning of this week to see that they are not prepared even to admit their mistakes or to redress any of the injustices they have caused. Five times in two years and, as late as the beginning of this week, they have voted against the bottom of the harbour Bills which are designed, as they know only too well, to recoup the tax revenue kept from the people of Australia by those opposite because of their inability or unwillingness to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion. Honourable members opposite are always saying how concerned they are about the Australian family. The tax avoidance and evasion that they presided over costs the average Australian family about $43 a week, but the Opposition in this House does not care.

I return to the figures I mentioned earlier. In 1968 the top 10 per cent of income earners had 10 times the income of the bottom 10 per cent. By 1982, for every $1,000 paid to the poor, the rich received $56,000. To put it another way, the wealthiest 2,500 Australians now own as much of this country's wealth as the poorest two and a half million. Nearly 800,000 children are included amongst the poorest two and a half million people in this country. To gain an idea of the magnitude of the maldistribution of this common wealth of Australia that has occurred under those opposite, if those two and a half million poorest Australians stood hand in hand the line would stretch from Sydney to Perth. I ask honourable members to think about that. A line of people over 3,000 kilometres long would stretch all the way from Sydney to Perth. If the wealthiest 2,500 Australians, who own as much wealth as those two and a half million Australians at the bottom end of the income scale, stood hand in hand they would be lucky to reach a distance of three kilometres, the distance between a couple of average suburban railway stations. That is the extent of the maldistribution of wealth in this country. Those opposite, the protectors, the puppets of the greedy tax avoiders and evaders, have deliberately ignored the plight of those in poverty in Australia today.

Mr Hand —The honourable member for Denison is laughing.

Mr STAPLES —Is he? I hope he is not laughing because it is a very serious matter. Information released by the Institute of Family Studies-

Mr Hodgman —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Once again I have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Melbourne. I ask that he withdraw his remark forthwith. I was not laughing. I was listening carefully to the honourable member for Jagajaga, and the honourable member for Melbourne totally misrepresented me.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —The point is taken, and I think that the honourable member for Melbourne has indicated that he has withdrawn.

Mr STAPLES —Information released this week by the Institute of Family Studies shows that between 1979 and 1982 there has been a 54.4 per cent increase in the number of two-parent families and a 38.6 per cent increase in one-parent families living below the poverty line. In those three years there has been a monstrous increase in the number of both two-parent and single parent families living below the poverty line in Australia. In my electorate of Jagajaga, more than $190,000 was distributed in emergency relief last year. On average, each applicant received $30 on four occasions throughout the year. That means that nearly 2,000 families are living on the poor box poverty line. One cannot get much lower than that if one has to ask not just for a pension or a benefit, which one is entitled to, but for a handout from the poor box. Can honourable members imagine the degradation and the extent of the poverty that people in this situation have to face? It is deplorable and it is the duty of this House and of everybody else to ensure that the load is lifted from the poor of this country and shared more evenly.

Today thousands of Australian children will go to bed hungry. That is a fact. The honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) well knows the extent of poverty in his electorate and the problems that mothers have to go through. As he has told me at other times, women have had to sell themselves into prostitution to get food for their children. It is just not good enough. Because of the extremes of poverty many parents of young people will expose themselves to great risks in this country today, tomorrow and for years to come unless we do something. Poverty is a fact of life. Where the next meal will come from, where the next piece of clothing will come from, are problems that affect many people in Australia today.

It is our national responsibility to address poverty, its causes and effects, right now. It is not just the job of this Government, a job which is well under way; it is the job of the Opposition, both Houses of Parliament, and the community of Australia to recognise the needs that exist today of those millions of our fellow citizens in poverty.

In less than one thousand days we will celebrate the bicentenary of European settlement in this country. Leading up to our bicentennial year in 1988 is the International Year of the Homeless in 1987. I, for one, welcome the passage through this House of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Bill, after years of token pilot schemes for the homeless under Liberal-National Party governments. The Year of the Homeless in 1987 should remind us that if we do not effectively address ourselves to attaching the highest priority to the issue of poverty over the next thousand days, we will have little of real value to celebrate. Taxation reform is the obvious and most powerful vehicle to address this issue. As my good colleague the honourable member for Canning (Mr Gear), with his usual eloquence, pointed out only last night in this debate, the facts are clear. The pay-as-you-earn taxpayer has been copping it in the neck, and those on the lowest incomes are affected the most because of the limitations of their disposable incomes.

In various ways these Appropriation Bills address aspects of poverty, but today the duty is upon us all on both sides of this House, in the other place, in parliaments throughout Australia, in local councils, communities and families and as individual Australians to act now to stop the poverty that exists in this country, otherwise our bicentenary year will be a very hollow affair despite all the crackers, fireworks, television jingles, and so on.

Poverty should be a political issue in this country, an issue which governments can quite comfortably go to the electorate on and speak strongly on. Voters not in poverty should show concern for their friends and neighbours and those people they do not know who are in great poverty in this country. To assist in raising poverty as an election issue, a real political issue, in this House and in the community, I will be organising a poverty summit in my electorate, starting on 28 April, to look at different facets of poverty. The poverty summit will continue throughout the year. The first session, on Sunday, 28 April, will focus on poverty and tax reform. I invite all honourable and members of the community to attend that poverty summit, because true tax reform will do more to alleviate poverty in this country and to share the common wealth of Australia. People should think of the words 'Commonwealth of Australia' as meaning to share the common wealth of Australia more equitably.