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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2578

Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition)(2.55) —Those of us in this House who observe the demeanour of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-and there are many of us--

Mr Carlton —We're forced to.

Mr HOWARD —Yes, we are forced to-have observed two very important things. First, the issue that causes him the greatest amount of sensitivity and is calculated more than anything else to send the present Prime Minister off his balance is any suggestion that the precious integrity of the Prime Minister is under doubt or under dispute. Whenever one says to the Prime Minister, `You have broken yet another promise', we can be absolutely certain that the level of prime ministerial anger, irritation and agitation is going to rise. But close behind that is the sheer panic and irritation of the Prime Minister whenever anybody on this side of the House reminds him of the extent of the failure of his Government and indeed the outright betrayal by his Government of that section of the Australian community which the Australian Labor Party historically claims it has always understood and best represented-that is, the poor, battling low income Australian family. This Government has done more damage to that section of the Australian community than any government this country has seen since the years of the Great Depression.

If honourable members do not believe me, I shall read to the House a letter written not by a member of the Liberal Party or by the Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party or, indeed, by any office bearer or member of the Liberal Party, as the Prime Minister is so wont to comment-however, two can play at that game-but by Joe de Bruin of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. He is not a paid up member of the Liberal Party or of the business establishment; he is a member of one of those unions that the Prime Minister spent years trying to get reaffiliated with the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. He is one of the members of those unions about which the Prime Minister fought people such as the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous), John Halfpenny and George Crawford concerning their readmission to the ALP-in other words, soul brothers, politically speaking, of the Prime Minister within the many factions of the Australian Labor Party. The following is what Joe de Bruin had to say in a letter written, significantly, on 20 March 1987. I repeat it and I warn the Prime Minister and honourable members opposite, particularly those in marginal seats, that they will hear a lot more of this kind of imprimatur of criticism put upon the Prime Minister. Joe de Bruin said:

The last four years have seen the most sustained reduction in living standards since the Depression of the 1930s and with the economy in its present state there is no relief in sight.

Those words express better than anybody else could express the sheer pent-up frustrations and the sense of betrayal felt by many working Australians and their families about the failed policies of this Government. It is no wonder, because not only are the policies bad but also the symbols are bad. Honourable members opposite are led by a Prime Minister who is becoming increasingly isolated from his natural constituency, a Prime Minister who chooses addresses to the business community to announce welfare cuts, and by a Treasurer (Mr Keating) who is not game to visit his own electorate, a Treasurer who thumbs his nose at responsibility towards ordinary citizens, a Treasurer who enjoys privileged treatment in relation to his taxation obligations. Indeed, honourable members opposite look upon a government that has increasingly lost touch not only with the people who elected it but also with the mainstream thinking of the Australian community.

To use one of the Prime Minister's favourite expressions, he goes into a fit of confected outrage whenever anybody asks him about some kind of mistake made by his Government. He went on like a two-bob watch over the question asked by my colleague the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) about the Austudy scheme. He started to make some statistical comparisons between the record of the Fraser Government and the record of the Hawke Government. I will give him a few statistical comparisons. I will tell him that the proportion of households living in poverty has risen under his Prime Ministership from 11.5 per cent in 1981-82 to 12.4 per cent in 1985-86. I will tell him that, in 1981-82, 1.9 million people were living below the poverty line in Australia--

Mr Hunt —How many?

Mr HOWARD —There were 1.9 million, and under his Prime Ministership 2.6 million people are living under the poverty line in Australia. That is an example of the failed policies of this Government. If he puts on any more of his confected outrage at Question Time regarding comparisons of performance under his leadership and under the Fraser Government there will be many more comparisons to come. Twenty-eight per cent of the people living below the poverty line have mortgages and are being crippled by the high interest rate policies of the Hawke Government. There are 60,000 Australians who now live on the verge of homelessness and 40,000 sleep in the open or in refuges.

He talked at Question time about the splendid record of his Government, so-called, on housing. Does he realise that, in June 1983, 124,000 Australians were on the waiting lists for public housing, but the figure has now risen to 157,000? Does he realise that his negative gearing and capital gains tax policies have driven the levels of rental accommodation for the poor in Australia's cities through the roof? Does he realise that his lop the tall poppy approach to taxation has done more damage to the poor and the low income families of Australia than to any other section of the Australian community? Does he realise that it is not only households on average weekly earnings which are paying more tax under this Treasurer (Mr Keating) but also households on three-quarters or one-half of average weekly earnings? Does he recall the words that he used in his maiden speech to this Parliament on 26 November 1980? As he approaches this mini-Budget, these words should be ringing in his ears because they will be ringing in the ears of all those marginal seat holders who sit opposite and who wonder why the Prime Minister does not have the courage to go into their electorates and announce that there will be welfare reductions. These words will come back to haunt the Prime Minister. In his maiden speech, talking about allegations relating to tax avoidance, he said this:

. . . while the relative tax burden has been remorselessly increased upon members of the middle and low income groups who have little opportunity to evade their obligations.

They were the words of the Prime Minister as the newly elected member for Wills on 26 November 1980. Now, 6 1/2 years later, those words that he uttered could well be applied with total truth and accuracy to the actions of his Government because under his leadership the taxation burden, both relative and absolute, on middle and low income earners has been remorselessly increased.

Does he realise that under his Prime Ministership the family allowance has fallen in value by 25 per cent in real terms? Does he realise that an average family with two dependent children is now paying $37 a week more in tax than it was paying in March 1983? Does he realise that that same family is paying $152 a month more on its mortgage than it was paying in March 1983? Does he realise that its living standard has fallen by an undisputed figure of at least $31 a week, and that that figure is calculated to rise? Does he realise that the long-term unemployment level in Australia has increased markedly under his Prime Ministership? Does he remember that at the last election interest rates on housing loans were 11 1/2 per cent? Does he realise that they are now 15 1/2 per cent? Does he know that Bankcard rates have in that same period gone from 18 per cent to 23 per cent? Does he know that small business rates have gone from 14 1/2 per cent to 21 per cent? Does he know that 1985-86 saw the largest number--

Mr Cohen —Is this 20 questions?

Mr HOWARD —The Minister interrupted saying that there are a lot of questions. Of course there are a lot of questions. They are questions that large numbers of Australians in marginal electorates will ask with increasing urgency and pressure. No wonder the Prime Minister does not have the courage to go into areas such as Hurstville, Burwood and Box Hill to be taken to account for some of these statistics.

Does he know that the number of bankruptcies in 1985-86 was the highest ever? Does he know that the current level of unemployment is higher than it was for all but four of the 86 months that the Fraser Government was in office? Does he know that under the Fraser Government the average level of unemployment was 6 per cent and that after four years of Hawke it is 8 1/2 per cent? Does he know that there were 193,000 long-term unemployed in February 1987 as against 159,000 in March 1983? Does he know that the average duration of unemployment was at 55.7 weeks in February of this year, against 35 weeks in March of 1983? Further, does he realise that his policies, after all the huffing and the puffing and the lavish expenditure of Priority One, have not made one jot of difference to the level of youth unemployment in Australia?

Does he realise that, despite his wordy and windy promise that nine out of 10 Australians would have cheaper and better health care, there are 100,000 Australians on the waiting lists of the public hospital system of this nation and that the great bulk of those people belong to the low income groups of Australian society? No wonder a factional soul-brother of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of one of the largest unions in this country, laments with total accuracy that four years of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have given Australia the most sustained level of reductions in living standards since the years of the Great Depression.

What is the answer of the Prime Minister? What is the answer of the Treasurer? It is one simple answer. It is: `Yes, it's all true, but it ain't our fault'. They answer that it is not the fault of the Treasurer; it is not the fault of the Prime Minister; it is not the fault of the Australian Labor Party'. No, they say it is the fault of the foreigners and the Fraser Government. To blame the Government is something one must never do. We have had Murphy's Law; we have had Burke's Law; but now we have another law; and that is, Keating's law which is: `It's never my fault'. The Australian public is fed up with that law and that alibi and it is not going to wear any longer the proposition that these problems are not the fault of this Government. The Government has had four years. It inherited very good climatic conditions; it inherited an upswing in the world business cycle; it inherited the beneficial effects of a wage pause that its members did their level best to torpedo and it blew it. It blew it from the beginning and it is still blowing it. The catastrophic fall in living standards over which the Government has presided is the Government's fault. It will be held accountable for it by the Australian community and it will be judged upon it at the next election.