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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1840

Mr O'KEEFE(10.32) —I sat here and listened with amazement to the deception that was portrayed by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) in his contribution to the debate. I think that the honourable member conceded one thing; that is, this Government inherited what he said were underlying structural problems which had existed in our economy for a long time. How right he is. Those underlying structural problems arose directly through the policies of Liberal-National Party conservative government in Australia over many years.

The honourable member described the revelation of the $9.6 billion deficit projection as a `shameful episode'. I agree; it was a shameful episode. In case the honourable member needs reminding, let me say that just a few weeks before the March 1983 election when the Fraser Government was still in office and its Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), became aware of that projection, he was advised and in fact made, by the Prime Minister of the day, to sit on it; it was not to become public knowledge. It was not to become public knowledge in Australia that you knew that you had a forward estimate of a deficit in the 1983 Budget of $9.6 billion, while you were telling the people of Australia during the election campaign that it would be around $4 1/2 billion. I agree with you; it was a shameful episode. You also stand in this House--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Burke that he speak through the Chair. Use the words `They also stand in this House'.

Mr O'KEEFE —I take the point, Madam Speaker. Honourable members opposite, and in particular the honourable member for Mackellar this morning, have alluded to the capacity of the current Government to somehow bring down a 1983 Budget result which would have countermanded that which was already in train. Let us simply straighten this out for the record. The Government was elected in March 1983. Consistent with his promise during the campaign, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) set in motion, within days, the first steps to turn around the Australian economy by holding the National Economic Summit Conference in April 1983. We are talking, Madam Speaker, about March and April of 1983. The end of that financial year was 30 June. So the decisions that had been made in the previous Budget, the spending programs already put in place by the government of the day, were beyond any repair for that financial year. For the shadow Treasurer to allude in this place to the possibility of the newly elected Labor Government turning around the projected $9.6 billion deficit is to partake in a shameful episode of deceit.

We have to look at why this sort of deficit existed. Why had we shifted, as a nation, to a heavy reliance on overseas debt? Why were we, as a nation, so badly exposed to the terms of trade, and why are we now so reliant on the performance of products such as iron ore, coal, wheat, wool and such commodities in the international market? One simply has to admit the fact-I wish those on the other side would admit it-that during the years of the Fraser, Menzies, McEwen, Holt, Gorton and McMahon governments, over the last 30 years, we as a nation wound back our manufacturing sector. We held an artificially overvalued dollar in place by the use of the Reserve Bank mechanism to maintain our commodity markets at the expense of our manufacturing sector. Through that process we lost many hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Let it not be forgotten that when this Government came to office in March 1983 the major problem facing this country was poverty and unemployment. Families and young people were thrown on the unemployment scrapheap by the policies of the previous Government. It has taken nearly five years to turn that around, and 800,000 jobs have been created since March 1983-an effort far beyond the expectations of the Government of the time. I hasten to add that many of those jobs have been filled by women. We have been able to bring about the increased participation of women in the work force and, as demonstrated by the equal opportunity legislation debated in this House late last week, the Government obviously stands very proudly behind this policy.

After talking about the economic performance of our predecessors and about the honourable member for Mackellar's reference to shameful episodes, I guess I have also to look at where we sit now as a nation-we discuss these Appropriation Bills today in this context-and where we go from here. It is clear to the economic pundits, to those who lead our labour movement, to those who lead the manufacturing and investment sector in this nation and to the international economic commentators and experts that this Government has put this country on the right track, that this Government has made the hard decisions and that the benefits of those decisions are starting to flow through. We are not talking about giving back free lunches to the business sector, we are not talking about giving back cars and expense account perks to business executives and we are not talking about returning pensions to millionaires as the means by which we can fund some sort of economic turnaround in this country. We are not talking about those sorts of proposals.

If one wants those sorts of proposals put in the words of those on the other side, they are proposing to abolish the capital gains tax that we have put in place. In other words, the high flyers on the stock market who make all these capital gains will have the tax removed from their profits. They will remove the assets test and, put in simple terms, that means that pensions will be given back to millionaires. Their own former Prime Minister, Sir William McMahon, was a classic example of someone who publicly advertised the ways that one could structure one's investments to retain one's pension. They are talking about removing the fringe benefits tax which, put in other words, is giving back free lunches and perks to executives. They are not the real measures that this economy requires. In fact, they are not even the real agenda of those on the other side of the House.

Mr Barry Jones —Billy got the old age pension and child endowment.

Mr O'KEEFE —As the Minister for Science at the table says, it is true that the former Liberal Prime Minister received the age pension, child endowment and all the benefits from his investment strategy. I do not wish to be distracted by my honourable colleagues because I want to focus now on an article on the front page of the Australian Financial Review of Monday 23 March which outlined the Liberal Party's secret agenda. I reiterate the term `secret agenda'.

Mr Jenkins —It's not too secret now.

Mr O'KEEFE —It is not too secret now, as the honourable member for Scullin interjects. We come to the question of shameful deceit. I want to analyse the secret agenda and contrast it with something that is very close to my interests, that is the area of Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Coolaroo and Bethal where we have a substantial number of new housing estates and a large public housing sector. The people living in those areas are totally exposed by these proposals for the reform of our economy. Number 1 on the agenda is `cut pensions and tighten eligibility'. In outer Melbourne we have one of the highest areas of dependence on social security for family subsistence. People living either on or under the poverty line are right in the gun of this secret agenda. The plan of the Liberal Party secretariat is:

. . . while many cuts should not be announced before an election-

in other words, do not tell anybody; it is a secret agenda-

apparently because of public outcry-

of course there would be public outcry-

they should be planned in detail beforehand.

They could then be put into effect immediately. That is the secret agenda leaked from Liberal Party headquarters. Let us take education. In Broadmeadows the most significant development in 30 years in my opinion was the opening of the Broadmeadows College of Technical and Further Education. That college was projected to have enrolments in the vicinity of 5,000 students somewhere down the track. In its first year it opened with 2,500 students. It finished its first year with 5,000 students. It now has 7,500 students 12 months after operation and it is bursting at the seams. People in that area are just thirsting for a chance to improve their skills and their education capacity, and to move into the work force with a real chance. They are grabbing at an opportunity, and I just make the point that this Government took the establishment of that TAFE college from the bottom of the priority list to the top. There is no embarrassment anywhere about having done that as it was badly needed. But what is in the secret agenda about training schemes and education opportunities? The Opposition will abolish training schemes and cut back on those sorts of opportunities. There will be a very direct effect from these sorts of proposals.

I say only one more thing about the economy and its direction, and that is about the floating of the dollar, particularly as it relates to Australian industry. I note that the honourable member for Mackellar did acknowledge that that was a positive reform by this Government. As he correctly said, it flowed from the recommendations of the Campbell Committee of Inquiry into the Australian Financial System, recommendations which his Government simply was not able to implement. The floating of the dollar is proving to be the turning point in our position as a world trader. For the first time in a decade, many Australian made products-I reiterate, Australian made products-have a real chance of competing. It is taking time, but it is leading to a number of benefits. Local goods and services are beginning to replace imports, which have become more expensive. Australian businesses are beginning to sell more overseas and local production is being boosted. Those who have been taking their money out of Australia-we know who represents them-who have said `If I don't get it my way I will take my money elsewhere'-

Mr Hollis —John Elliott.

Mr O'KEEFE —John Elliott, as my colleague mentions, is one. These people say: `I will take my money elsewhere if you are not going to do it right'. Mr Ansett, the great champion of small business in Australia, is taking his money out of the country. Honourable members opposite have to stand up and be counted. Who are they in here for, who are they barracking for? Also, companies which have relied on selling imports to Australia have now had to either lower their prices or make products in Australia. We are seeing some real changes in investment taking place and nowhere more so-I quite proudly report this to the Parliament-than around Broadmeadows, Gisborne, Sunbury and Kyneton, areas in the north-west industrial corridor of my electorate.

I make the point that one cannot come into this House and deceive people by reeling forth statistics and saying: `This is what would have happened if only it could have happened'. Honourable members opposite have to face up to the fact that what they allege is not the way it was, that this Government inherited a situation which required the toughest and hardest economic decisions that any government has taken in many decades. I finish with a comment on Broadmeadows. A very clear picture can be painted. It is often said that the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. I can tell the House that for Broadmeadows the paddock was pretty bare. I simply say to the House that the secret agenda is not on. I will not stand by and see that paddock become barren again.