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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 622

Mr TICKNER(6.19) —I am very pleased to be able to participate in this debate on the matter of public importance. I do so not to engage in a slanging match but because I believe that at this moment in Australian history we are facing a potential turning point.

Opposition members interjecting--

Mr TICKNER —I point out to members opposite that it is not my practice to interject when they speak, and I would hope that they would accord me the basic courtesy that I accord them. It is not the Australian Labor Party that has deepened the divisions that exist between it and the conservative parties. It is the conservative parties which have come under the domination of the extreme right wing forces of the New Right. This debate will show just how clearly they have swung to the extreme right of the Australian political spectrum.

I propose to deal with the motion in three very specific ways: Firstly, to review the promises and policies which have been made by the Opposition; secondly, to highlight the bankruptcy of those promises; and, thirdly, to bring home to the Australian people the reality of just how these extremist policies would threaten the quality of life, not just of Australian families, not just of middle class Australians, but of all Australians, including the old and the poor. Firstly, let me refer to the specific promises that have been made by the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia at least so far as the details have been made known to the media and the public. There have been 19 specific policy proposals, each of which can be directly traced to a Liberal or National party official spokesman for the Opposition. The Opposition has promised to repeal the Government's tax reform measures. These proposals by the Opposition are, of course, nothing less than a payback to the New Right and have no basis, either in economic rationality or in social justice or equity. The Opposition proposes to repeal the fringe benefits tax, allow tax deductibility of entertainment expenses, repeal the capital gains tax and restore negative gearing for property investments.

The Opposition has also made other promises. Some of them have been made directly by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) while others have been made by his spokesmen. It is true to say that the Leader of the Opposition has introduced and turned into an art form the concept of arm's length pork barrelling. The Opposition has promised to implement income splitting, to repeal the wine sales tax, to repeal the tax on lump sum superannuation, to introduce child care tax rebates and the list goes on. It has promised to abolish the indexation of fuel excise, to fully rebate excise on all petrol used by farmers, to restore income equalisation deposits and tax averaging, to implement the restitution of immediate write-off on conserving or conveying water, to abolish tax on oils and lubricants and to remove the excise on brandy. These promises add up to a cost of $3,840m. They are the specific promises of the Leader of the Opposition and his spokesmen.

Promise No. 15 is the repeal of the assets test. Promise No. 16 is the cost of the Opposition's industrial policy and the 12-months wage freeze which would cost $500m. The proposed personal income tax changes-this is promise No. 17-would cost $6,650m. Promise No. 18 is the proposal to reduce the company tax rate to match the personal income tax rate at a cost of $2,200m. To offset this long list of inequitable and irrational pork barrelling, we have promise No. 19-this time by Senator Messner-for an 8 per cent broad-based indirect tax to give a net revenue of $3,800m.

The problem for the Opposition is that this litany of promises has amounted to 19 steps to a political graveyard. The grand total of its commitments is $14,715m-nearly $15 billion. The revenue proposals total $3,800m, leaving a net addition to the deficit of $10,915m. This damning indictment of the credibility of the Opposition speaks for itself. But it goes further. As the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) has said, we are now witnessing splits, not just between the Liberal and National parties but within those parties themselves. The Leader of the Opposition has become the mouthpiece of the New Right in the Parliament. The Liberal Party, which was once proud of its independence, now dances to an extremist political tune dictated by forces not only outside the Liberal Party but also outside the Parliament. The intellectual force of conservative politics in Australia is not in this chamber. It lies outside the Parliament and outside the Liberal Party and it is pushing the Liberal Party further and further to the right. Luckily for the Liberal Party, there are people inside that party who want the Liberals to return to being a middle of the road party. The former Liberal Premier of South Australia and now member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) said on 28 January that the Australian electorate does not like extremes. He said that it does not like divided parties. He referred to the New Right and urged them to justify their actions `in ripping the guts out of the Liberal Party with a butcher's knife of extremes'. That is what was said by a Liberal member.

Another Liberal, the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee), who is the Opposition spokesman on communications, was reported in the Australian as having said:

Menzies insisted he was founding a Liberal Party not a conservative one.

The honourable member said that the H. R. Nicholls Society, a well known arm of the New Right, proposed a greed-based libertarian conservatism which is not the genuine liberalism of Menzies, or of Alfred Deakin, or of John Stuart Mill. Another genuine Liberal, who is also a serving member of this Parliament, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 January 1987 as saying that the extreme Right `had become a major destabilising influence in the Liberal Party'.

But what of the Leader of the Liberal Party himself, the person who puts himself forward as the alternative Prime Minister of Australia? On repeated occasions the Leader of the Opposition has been given the opportunity to distance himself from the policies of the New Right extremists. On 2 September Ray Martin, a journalist, put a straight question to Mr Howard. He asked:

So you don't think the so-called New Right is extremist?

Mr Howard replied:

No, not at all.

Less than one month ago, on 26 January, the Sydney Morning Herald--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! the honourable member for Hughes might refer to honourable members by their title or their electorate.

Mr TICKNER —Of course, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Sydney Morning Herald continued that saga on 26 January by running an article under the heading `Howard: We won't shun New Right'. On 29 January the Leader of the Opposition was reported as fighting to retain the loyalty of the New Right hero, Mr Jay Pendarvis. What a sad and sorry spectacle of the leader of a major political party in this country!

I now turn my attention to the National Party. The right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) launched 1987 for the National Party in a rather big way. On 4 January he put out a media release which specifically called for the States to levy personal income tax. In the same statement he welcomed moves by the Queensland Premier to assist the coalition by putting the main focus on taxation. The State income tax proposal perhaps received a more preferable political fate than did the Leader of the National Party because that proposal received an immediate political death whereas the Leader of the National Party has experienced death by a thousand cuts at the hands of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the very people who are supposed to owe him allegiance in his own party. The National Party has now moved for all practical purposes to giving allegiance to a person who is neither in this Parliament nor has been elected by the National Party as its leader. But let us make no mistake-Joh is king.

Despite the fact that the taxation policy of the Leader of the Opposition was based on the concept of a broad based indirect tax, no indication had been given by the Leader of the National Party that he demurred from that policy. But he ambushed the Leader of the Opposition when he declared on 16 February that he had never supported a consumption tax. On the same day, he locked the Leader of the Opposition into an impossible position by declaring that the Liberal and National parties would go forward with a single tax policy. How could the Leader of the National Party have got it so wrong?

In the time that I have left in which to speak, I urge the people of Australia to give very serious thought to the consequences of our country if these people were ever to gain government. I ask people to remember that if Sir Joh comes to Canberra, at the very least he will be deputy to the Liberal leader should the Opposition ever form a coalition in government. At the very least, if the Opposition won government, Sir Joh would be the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. People in the marginal seats across Australia are going to remember that a vote for the Liberal Party will effectively be a vote for Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson as Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

Let us see what that might mean in practice. Let us look at the impact of the policies of the Leader of the Opposition and his cohorts. In New South Wales, the coalition Opposition has as its spokesman on the environment not a Liberal member but a National Party member. Of course, here in the Federal Parliament the Opposition spokesman on the environment is not just a National Party member but also a Queensland National Party member. If anyone in this country has any illusions as to what might happen under a government led by the current Leader of the Opposition, he or she ought to have a very close look at what Senator Collard has said about environmental protection. That honourable senator is opposed to the Government's stand on Kakadu, he is opposed to the Government's support for the protection of rainforests, and he has even gone on the record as opposing the Fraser Government's action to protect Fraser Island from sand mining.

I do not know whether the Opposition aims to have a Howard-Sinclair government, a Howard or Peacock-Bjelke-Petersen government, or even a Bjelke-Petersen-Cameron government. But no part of the community would be able to escape the impact of the extremist policies of such a coalition, and that includes even sensitive areas such as veterans' affairs. If we look at what the Returned Services League is saying about the coalition, we see that its national President, Sir William Keys, met with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party and Sir William referred to the disquiet within the ex-service community about the statements from the Leader of the Opposition and spokesmen from the New Right `which gave cause to believe that the Department of Veterans' Affairs might not be retained'. If Sir William was looking for an assurance from the Leader of the Opposition when he went to see him, he, like many other groups in the Australian community, would have gone away empty-handed.

Every parent in Australia should be under no misapprehension about what a right wing conservative government would do to education, and this applies whether children are attending government schools or non-government schools. The Leader of the Opposition's Liberal Party is committed to massive public spending cuts, the privatisation of public institutions and the reintroduction of tertiary fees. No parent concerned with his or her children's future will be supporting cuts to education at the ballot box. Pensioners and veterans will not be immune from the cuts. The Opposition, which professes concern for the family, says very little about children in poverty. The honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) was quoted in the Age of 16 September as spelling out the approach of the Opposition. He said:

We must cut out the big ticket items. When we take office there will be howls of protest as we cut program after program.

I turn now to the question of housing. This morning every Labor member of the Federal Parliament expressed a total commitment to the maintenance of the 13 1/2 per cent ceiling on home loan interest rates for those home owners who took out their mortgage prior to April last year.

Mr Beale —How are you going to deal with the housing crisis then?

Mr TICKNER —I am glad that the honourable member interjected. The one and a half million Australian voters who are protected by the Labor Government should be aware that the shadow Minister for Housing and Construction has been publicly critical of the Labor Government's stand in this area. Under a conservative government more than 1 1/2 million Australians would be left to the mercy of the banks and the market.

In winding up, I turn to the question of industrial relations because no area could be more central to Australia's economic recovery. In this area the clear implications of the New Right's policies are that minimum wages will be cut and conditions will be destroyed. This will have such a deleterious effect on Australian families that people will take years to recover from such an assault.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 6.34 to 8 p.m.