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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2486

Mr GOODLUCK —My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Does he regard it as obscene that he should attend a black tie Australian Labor Party fund raising dinner, at $460 a double, in order to foreshadow cuts in welfare expenditure-such as for the aged and family allowances-in the forthcoming May economic statement?

Mr HAWKE —Let me say to the honourable member that I find the exercise of last Saturday night a perfectly appropriate one. It was one which nevertheless I understand would be considerably disturbing to those on the other side of the House, not for any reasons of decency on their part, but rather because it is a further piece of evidence of the fact that they have totally lost any reasonable constituency in this country. The fact is that the business community of this country has come to the quite proper and, I would suggest, obvious conclusion that there is only one party in this country which is capable of providing reasonable and responsible government, and that is the Australian Labor Party. Hence the fact that we are now getting the support of people throughout the community.

But I say this to the honourable member: I had one observation to make at that dinner which is very relevant to his question. In the course of my remarks I said that we would in May be bringing down a tough statement, one that would be exercising expenditure restraint. I said to the gathering-I would be interested to know afterwards the view of the honourable gentleman-that amongst the things that we would be doing in the May statement would be the introduction of further measures to ensure that those who were not entitled to receive social welfare payments would not receive them. I said we would have further measures to see that the welfare cheats were prevented. Speaking to members of the business community there, I said: `I have no doubt that you have a great clarity of vision in understanding the correctness of what we are doing in that regard'-that the welfare cheats should not get their payments-and they nodded their agreement. I said: `It is a great pity that you do not have a symmetry of vision. You see that the people below you should not get payments if they are not entitled to them. It is a pity you do not have the symmetry of vision to see that the millionaires should not get their pensions'.

Mr Goodluck —I am not worried about the millionaires.

Mr HAWKE —The honourable gentleman says that he is not worried about millionaires. I believe him. I believe that the honourable gentleman does have a symmetry of vision. The great tragedy is that he sits behind a leader-and in a party-who does not have the symmetry of vision, who looks only at the people below him. I do not condone a person on the lower income scale cheating. This Government will do more than has been done by any other government to see that that cheating stops. But what I find hypocritical in the extreme is that honourable members opposite will tell the people at the lower level of the income scale, `You are cheats; you are not entitled', but the people behind whom the honourable member for Franklin sits-the Howards, the Carltons and the Sinclairs of this world-say that it is perfectly all right for those on the upper end to cheat.

Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, on a point of order: You have already confessed to the chamber that you have a particular problem in maintaining order with the Prime Minister because--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Moreton will resume his seat. He is coming very close to reflecting upon the Chair.

Mr Donald Cameron —I would not want to do that.

Madam SPEAKER — I also point out to the honourable member for Moreton that that is not what I said. I said to the House that the Chair gives a lot of latitude to the leaders of the parties.

Mr Donald Cameron —In terms of an extension of that latitude, why do you allow him to describe the Leader of the Opposition as Howard and the shadow Treasurer as--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Moreton will resume his seat. The Chair was about to tell the Prime Minister, but he was in full flight and, I might add, he is a little difficult to stop when he is in full flight.

Mr HAWKE —Madam Speaker, let me rephrase my point by saying that I would have more respect for the honourable member for Franklin and his purported concern for the poor if he stood up and said to the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and all the rest of the dries who now dominate his Party-

Mr Goodluck —Madam Speaker, on a point of order: I do not know what the words `wets' and `dries' mean. I would say that to anybody.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will sit down.

Mr HAWKE —Madam Speaker, I will make it a bit easier for the honourable member for Franklin because I know that he takes pride in being a simple man. I will put it this way to the honourable member: I will have more respect for him when he expresses concern for the poor in this country if he stands up publicly and strongly and gets the party of which he is a member to get the same symmetry of vision and to concentrate as much concern upon the rich who are ripping off the system, who have taken pensions when they are millionaires. If the honourable member would stand up on the issue of the fringe benefits system--

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. The question asked of the Prime Minister was: Does he regard it as obscene that he should attend an Australian Labor Party black tie fund raising dinner that cost $460 a double in order to foreshadow welfare cuts? Standing Orders provide that questions cannot be debated; that is provided in standing order 144. Madam Speaker, as you would well know, to debate means to discuss, to argue or to enter into discussion. Of course, that is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing. The Prime Minister does not come in here very often so he probably does not understand how to answer a question.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member is now debating as well.

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, the ruling I would ask from you is that that provision applies to the answer and not to the question and I believe that that is the advice you will get from the Clerks. If you want to look at the history you will find that that is borne out by the background to the standing order itself. I ask you therefore, to make that ruling and to rule that the Prime Minister cannot answer in the way in which he is.

Madam SPEAKER —I point out that there is a provision in standing order 144 that questions cannot be debated. It appears to have been overlooked for some 80 years as far as its application is concerned. However, as the standing order is still there, it is still usable. We get back then to the position where, once again, the Chair decides when a Minister has stopped answering a question and has started debating it. Once again we get back into this rather grey area--

Mr Spender —Judgmental area.

Madam SPEAKER —It is a judgmental area which, as I have told you, in the matter of relevance, nearly always comes back to a question of opinion.

Mr HAWKE —The question asked by the honourable member for Franklin went to what I regarded as obscene in the area of the poor. I simply conclude by saying that the greatest obscenity that I see in this area is where honour- able members on the Opposition side of the House concentrate-viciously, I might say-upon the poor in this country and seek to ensure that the poor have no opportunity to double-dip into the welfare area, while at the same time Opposition members steadfastly adhere to a position that, whatever the income and asset position of persons in this country, they should be able to dip into the welfare expenditures of this country and should have all the fringe benefits available. I will have total respect for the questions on this issue put by the honourable member for Franklin when he has that symmetry of vision. I think perhaps he has. It is a pity that he could not enforce those same views on those on his front bench. Then there would be decency within his Party, which is entirely lacking on this issue now.