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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 2972

Mr CARLTON —My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is the existence of more than 2.6 million people currently living below the poverty line, compared with 1.9 million when the Prime Minister assumed office, further evidence of how-to use his words in answer to yesterday's dorothy dixer-his Government has transformed and revitalised the economy?

Mr HAWKE —Again picking up a comment by my colleague the Minister for Health when he referred to the Economic Planning Advisory Council paper, I suggest that if the honourable member is really interested in the matter he should study the impact of the social wage and the way in which the many manifestations and elements of it have operated in this country to help those who are less privileged. I will not take up the time of the House again by detailing in all the relevant areas the contrast between the performance of the previous Government and the outstanding achievements of this Government. I simply remind the House that, if honourable members wish to talk about the welfare of families, they have to look at what has been done for employment, education, housing and so on. The Opposition's record in those areas was appalling. In every respect, the achievements of this Government leave the Opposition for dead.

We must also recognise-and this Government recognises-that we have to tailor our social policies to fit the economic capacity that is available to government. If we are to be a responsible government, we simply cannot ignore the fact that this country has had imposed upon it a loss of $9 billion in economic capacity. If the Opposition wishes to engage in voodoo economics, if it wants to get into cloud-cuckoo-land, if it wants to insult the intelligence of the Australian electorate and say that the people will not have to endure the consequences of that loss of $9 billion in economic capacity, it must go ahead and do so; let it try to suspend the laws of arithmetic. In insulting the intelligence of the Australian electorate, however, it will continue to go further and further down in the polls, as it is doing and will continue to do. The fundamental mistake that those opposite make is that they think they can get up in this House and say: `Ooh! Look at the terribly high level of interest rates. Ooh! Look at the fact that real wages have gone down'.

Mr Spender —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall my raising with you the standing order which states that in answering any question a member shall not debate the matter to which the same refers. This is a question which is directed to a specific matter. The Prime Minister is clearly debating that question. You will be aware, Madam Speaker, that the Clerks in their memorandum--

Madam SPEAKER —Order!

Mr Spender —If I may, Madam Speaker-it is relevant to the point of order-I quote just one part of a memorandum from the Clerk of the House on 16 February in which he states:

There are very good reasons, which go to the heart of the complaints regarding our present question time, for resurrecting this rule-

he is talking about the rule I have just raised-

and for a strict application of its intention by the Chair.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, to apply that rule and to apply it strictly to the Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER —May I say that the House put the Speaker into the position of making such decisions. The standing order that the honourable member brings up now still relates to questions, not answers. It is a very grey area. I do not totally accept what the honourable member says in relation to it. I am still here to interpret it, and I find the Prime Minister in order.

Mr HAWKE —Thank you, Madam Speaker. As I was saying, it is all very well for those opposite to get up and say: `Look at the level of interest rates. Look at the fact that there has been a reduction in standards'. But they cannot have it both ways. If one is to accept one's economic responsibility to bring in policies that one thinks are relevant to this country, one has to take account of what has been imposed upon this country as a result of external factors.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr HAWKE —Those opposite can ooh and ah and have their pathetic giggles; but the people of Australia, fortunately, are singularly more intelligent than those opposite give them credit for. The people of Australia understand, even if those opposite are not prepared to, that the country has lost $9 billion in income. What the people are looking for from the parties in this country is a way in which that loss of income can be shared equitably.

What will distinguish this Government from the five Opposition parties as we go into the election will be the fact that it will be this side of the House that will ensure that that loss of income will be shared equitably. For instance, coming back to the area of health which is very much concerned with the question, we will not be doing what the Opposition would be doing, that is, abolishing Medicare, which on average would impose about an additional $15 a week upon the average family in this country. I repeat that a fundamental distinction between this Government and the forces of darkness on the other side is this: We will ensure that there is restraint with equity. We will not-the Opposition will be promising to do this-give pensions back to the millionaires. We will not be abolishing the capital gains tax so that the paper shufflers can make no contribution to the welfare of this country. We will be ensuring, through mea-sures such as the capital gains tax, the fringe benefits tax and those sorts of things, that the people of this country with the greatest capacity to pay will be making a contribution so that in the straitened economic circumstances imposed upon this country the great mass of people, and particularly the poorest people, will get the fairest go.

Of course, it is the fact that, as we have had that sort of loss of income of $9 billion, there will be a loss of standards. But the distinction between this side of the House and the other side of the House is that the restraint that has to be exercised by the Australian community will be exercised with fairness. We will not see the return of the rorts and the rackets which characterised the Opposition when in government and which it promises to return to if ever-it is not the case in the foreseeable future-it should be restored to the treasury bench. The people of Australia tried the Opposition in gov- ernment for seven years, they found it wanting, they found a better alternative, and there is no way that they will go back to any one of the five parties masquerading as an alternative gov- ernment in this country.