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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1904

Mr COWAN(5.50) —I listened to the honourable member for Banks (Mr Mountford), who to some degree went into the historical reasons why he believes there are economic problems today within Australia. I do not dis- agree with many of the things he said but I think there would be an admission from both sides of the House that we have not at all times made the most of our advantages and so made this country a better land for everybody to live in. I want to speak in fairly broad terms about the economy and factors that have a vital effect upon the economy and try to point out some of the things that I think we should direct attention to and maybe some of the remedies that we ought to look at to overcome the problems facing us at the moment.

One thing we have to appreciate is that Australia is a young country. It is almost 200 years since we were founded. In earlier days we were dependent upon agriculture and there was very little manufacturing. However, we grew very quickly. When we look back today over the 200 years, I guess there must be a certain amount of satisfaction with the development that has taken place. When I speak about development, I speak of the development of industry, people, roads, the modern communications that we enjoy in Australia today and the fact that we are looked upon by other countries as a very rich land which should be able to meet its responsibilities of feeding the world and sharing the natural resources that we are very fortunate to have.

Over the past 15 to 20 years there has been a very serious decline. In the early 1970s most people were able to afford a home, own a motor vehicle and have a boat and trailer in their backyards. They were fairly well off, but since that period there has been a very substantial decline which should never have taken place under any circumstances. We have to look at Australia as a country of very soil rich that is capable of producing virtually any agricultural product that the climatic conditions will allow us to grow.

We are a country with a tremendous amount of natural resources and we live in a world that needs natural resources. I agree with the honourable member for Banks that there was a resource boom. We went around the world and we tried to sell our iron ore, coal and other products taken out of the soil because people required those products. But when we look back, surely we must tell ourselves that we have declined because we have allowed overseas interests to come in and exploit our products for profit, when we should have been winning those resources from the soil ourselves and producing the steel and the other articles that were required by other countries. We should have built up trade, kept our costs low, employed people and brought productivity to the fore. These are the things that we overlooked. We were all responsible for that. We are a God-given country. We were given the natural resources that I am speaking about, but instead of taking advantage of them we were inclined to overtax ourselves, to cut our hours of work back and give ourselves industrial awards that no country like ours could ever afford to have. We were willing to hand these things out and now when we look back we ask why we did that, because we had an opportunity then to build this land, to sell the things that we had to trade with the rest of the world, to have full employment and to produce things that actually gave us a better standard of living.

I went into a supermarket the other day-like the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), who goes into supermarkets-just to see the products on the shelves that were made in Europe or somewhere else. It is scandalous to think that we have to buy jam that was made in Poland or Germany or some other country when we produce it here. I am speaking not only of jam but also of other foodstuffs that we buy from around the world. Yet we talk about the consumer price index going up. Of course the CPI will rise because of the import tax that has to be paid and the price we have to pay for overseas products.

Mr Braithwaite —The J-curve is working. It is pushing up prices.

Mr COWAN —That is right; the J-curve is forcing prices up. All of this is related to our failure to examine ourselves properly and to look to the things that we are responsible for here. Australia is an island continent. We have water all around us and all the fish resources that it is possible to find anywhere; yet we import fish. We import more processed fish than we sell. It is scandalous that other countries send mother ships out here thousands and thousands of kilometres away from home, processing their raw catch on board or taking it back home and processing there, and then selling it to us and competing with the Australian industry. What is wrong with this country? We are not taking advantage of the opportunities that we have.

We sometimes wonder what the trouble has been. Certainly one problem has been the direction and policy of governments in years gone by. Another problem is those privileges that we were prepared to give ourselves. They have made us so uncompetitive on world markets. I do not think the average Australian wanted to sit back and work only 36 or 38 hours a week. I have an article from the Newcastle Herald detailing work practices at the Newcastle dockyard. Although this is basically a State matter, every member here should look at this and see all the work practices that are abided by. We talk about building submarines and ships for the Navy and for our trade fleet so that we can ply trade around the world, but we cannot build ships here because when one looks at--

Mr Braithwaite —Send them up to Queensland. They will build them there.

Mr COWAN —That is right. Carrington Slipways Pty Ltd within my electorate is a very good firm. I am sure it can build ships, but look at the Newcastle dockyard. It is no wonder it has been closed down. What occurred there is found in many of the industrial agreements in Australia, particularly in the resources industry. I wonder where we have gone wrong in the past. Is it the pressure groups and little groups within the community that will not let us mine the areas that we ought to mine or that want to shut up the forests where we ought to win timber? I note that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) is at the table, as is the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). I hope they both have enough common sense to realise our responsibilities and in the future adopt a realistic point of view. If we have timber, which is a renewable resource, we should allow people to cut it and manage the industry properly.

There is also the effect of the unions over the years. I mentioned a while ago the restrictive work practices in awards and such matters. There has been strong pressure for militant unions within Australia. I look at the political parties on this side of the House and wonder why we have some forms of division amongst us. There is no obvious division within the Government at the moment. We know that there is division between the Left, the Right and the Centre, but the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has been very lucky. He has been able to keep this very quiet over the last year or so. The reason for that is that the Prime Minister was the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions-the very organisation which was responsible for the problems on our industrial scene. This man is today the Prime Minister of this country. Where does his allegiance lie? Where must it lie?

Mr Nehl —He is still in bed with the ACTU.

Mr COWAN —As the honourable member for Cowper says, he is still in bed with the ACTU.

Mr Cohen —What is wrong with that?

Mr COWAN —The Minister asks what is wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with it as far as he is concerned because he has his prices and incomes accord. The Government and the ACTU have gone to bed together and they are a very happy team. But the problems on this side of the House have been brought about principally because there are strong elements in this nation today-in industry, in the family, in the churches, in the Returned Services League, in communities everywhere one looks-that realise that we are not doing well and that there must be an improvement. That is the reason for our little concerns, and why Sir Joh is threatening to come from the north. There are people within the Liberal Party who might not be pleased because they think they are right on certain things. This is understandable. People will desert the Government in these circumstances and support us on this side of the House. This is the important factor.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister has announced that he will not be going to the people until the end of his term. I give him credit for that in principle because I think a government should serve its proper term. But the fact of the matter is that he will not go to the people now because he knows that they realise what is happening. We have our problems of putting our house in order but we must be accepted as an alternative, credible government. I believe that, as time permits, the two strong, old political parties on our side of the House will be recognised by the bulk of Australian people as the ones which will put their house in order and be an acceptable alternative government. We have to get back to 40 hour weeks; we have to do away with the 17 1/2 per cent holiday loading.

Mr Cohen —I wish we would.

Mr COWAN —The Minister need not be concerned. We will not go into the next election promising, as the Treasurer (Mr Keating) would like to say we will, that we increase spending by $16 billion. That is a lot of rot. Our shadow Treasurer and our Leader have never said that here. We will go into the next election saying that we will give incentive within our taxation system, as the honourable member for Dawson has been saying time and time again in this House. The people of this country know that we will not impose a wealth tax. That will be this Government's next measure.

I am saying these things off the top of my head only because of what has been said by speakers before me. I would like to say more down to earth things about the economic situation that we are confronting in this country, but I am saying this simply because in recent months we have witnessed billions of dollars being traded with the media interests of this country. That will not produce one ounce of productivity for Australia. It will not grow more wheat or more corn or produce another railway engine. It will never do that. But that has happened and the Government has allowed it to occur. This is an important fact. The honourable member for Banks has supported this, as has the honourable member for Cowan (Ms Jakobsen). I have not seen anybody in the Australian Labor Party coming out and saying that this sort of thing is bad for Australia. Under socialism the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer, and that is why we all have people in our electorates who are not able to rent or to build a house. The Australian people know this, because it is characteristic. The Minister knows it. He hears it within his own electorate. That is why honourable members opposite look worried at times. That is a drift that is occurring in this country.

Let us provide that incentive. We do not need to have immigrants coming to this country, maybe without skills and maybe under a refugee scheme. They are prepared to buckle down and work and that is why they get work. I have great faith in the inheritance of every Australian. Members of younger generations are willing to get out and to do their 40 hours work-or 50 hours, if necessary-to get this country back on its feet. But they want smaller government. They want incentive in their taxation. They want reasonable industrial laws under which to work and operate. They want to get out and earn a living for themselves. I am sure they do not want to be employed in the Public Service, because that initiative that they inherited is still within them. It is being whittled away by this Government. I hope that it is never completely whittled away, because once we open up the floodgates, once we start gradually to legislate and give Australian people the incentive to do things, I am sure that we will see the results.

Mr Braithwaite —Give them the opportunity; that is all.

Mr COWAN —That is right. I spoke a while ago about the media. We can talk about the banks. I doubt whether the banks have ever made a greater profit than they are making at the moment. Last year $1.5 billion was made by the banks in this country, under a socialist government. Yet our farmers out in the field are being pushed off their farms.

Mr Nehl —Disgraceful!

Mr COWAN —It is a disgraceful situation. They are being pushed off their farms. Is it not time that there was sensible discussion between the farmers, industry, the banks and the Government? Is it not up to the Government to initiate it? Is it not time that these people were helped? I am sick and tired of hearing that the farmers should be self-supporting. Mr Deputy Speaker, they want to be and you and I would like to see that. But a farmer who toils in this country or any other country today is subject to the elements of nature. These elements affect his cropping, the treatment of his soil and, admittedly, his markets. But he has to grow a crop. If we push the farmer down, whether his business is wheat, beef, beef, dairying, fruit, vegetables or something else, it takes years before he is able to get back on his feet. He has to breed stock and grow crops. We have to understand that the bulk of this nation's exports, as I have said time and again, comes from the person who tills the soil, the person who works the ground-always reliable, the family farmer.

I could go on to talk about the family, but I do not have the time. We could talk about families all night. They are the basis of this nation. The moral standards of this nation are slipping. I witnessed the advertisement on the air today concerning the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. If the Government wants Australians to learn the lesson about AIDS it had better make its stand much firmer than it is contemplating at the moment with its $3m AIDS program. I agree with the Reverend Fred Nile on this issue. If we show the children of today the things that the Government intends to show them and has been showing them on television they will want to try them out. That is human nature for sure. We have to be a little tougher than we are at the moment. Not only must we restore the economy but also we must improve our standards if we are to do the proper thing by the people we are in this House to represent.

I would like to talk about many things. I never realised that Appropriation Bills could occasion so much discussion. I thought we were going to talk directly about interest rates and other related matters but I found out, Mr Deputy Speaker, when I was seated in the chair that you occupy today, while I have been in the House and while I have listened to the radio, that we are covering a wide field. We have been to South Africa, we have been to Lucas Heights-we have been everywhere. I do not know where we have not been. What I am speaking about is much more important than all of those things put together. Honourable members opposite may laugh, but they know jolly well that the people they represent are not being represented properly while they are talking about the fiddling things.

This Government-and those on this side of the House-must be prepared to think of people and to consider our responsibility, first to our own people and secondly to the people of the world. We have a responsibility to feed and clothe them, because the good Lord has presented us with the natural resources to do this. Perhaps we should be like the Koreans and the Japanese. I heard a person say the other day: `Yes, we have got the resources'. They have not got the resources, but they have the fire in their bellies-that is the important fact. We have the natural resources, but we have not got the fire in our bellies. That is the summary of the situation as I see it. I believe that there is a better future for Australia if we are sensible. We all have great confidence in the young people in the community.