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Thursday, 1 June 2000
Page: 16850

Mr NUGENT (1:43 PM) —Before I come to the comments of the member of Charlton, who has just spoken, could I briefly make a remark about the previous speaker on this side, the member for Adelaide, and the comments towards the latter end of her speech, in particular in relation to Corroboree 2000 at the weekend and the march across the bridge, the state of indigenous welfare in this country and progress on indigenous relations. I very much associate myself with the very humane, knowledgeable and supportive comments she made in that regard.

Let me also before I start my comments pick up on some of the things the member for Charlton said. The member for Charlton is a new member in this place. I remember her father, who held the seat before her—a gentleman indeed. Although we often clashed on policy, we had a good working relationship. But I have to say to the member for Charlton that, new in this place or not, you have to learn a bit about the history of what goes on around here and learn to get some of your facts correct. When you say, for a start, a GST on everything, of course that is not true. The GST is in fact not applied to everything. To stand up here in this place and to say that to the nation is actually gross misleading. You say that you want to have the Timor levy maintained when there is actually no need for it to be maintained for the purpose for which it was originally agreed between the two sides of politics. In other words, you are actually saying that you want to increase taxation on the Australian people; you want the Australian taxpayer to pay more tax. That is a perfectly legitimate position for you to adopt, but let us be honest about it. If your side of politics wants to raise the level of taxation to pay for doing more things, that is a legitimate position for you to take, but say so openly. Do not try to suggest that we already agreed to this tax and, therefore, because it was not needed for the purpose for which it was originally intended, we should somehow start a backhanded trick of spending it on other things.

It was also stunning to hear the member for Charlton talk about selling assets, talking about fire sales. I know she was not here during the 13 years of the Labor government, but has she not heard about what her government did with Qantas? Has she not heard what her government did with the Commonwealth Bank? And so I could go on. The member for Charlton talked about buying shares and the fact that Telstra shares have gone down in value on the stock market and asked why the government is not going to do something to compensate those who may therefore lose some money. The reality is that this government does not guarantee the price of any shares on the stock market. That is what going on the stock market is all about: you win some and you do not always win some. There is no question of any government bailing people out in that sense.

She went through a whole list of things that she says that people `will pay for'. `They will pay for' one thing, `they will pay for' something else, all with the GST, because with the GST, she said, prices were going to go up. What she conspicuously failed to mention, having given one loaded side of the picture, was that the GST is part of an overall package and people are getting significant compensation. If they are pensioners, their pensions are going up. If they are earning income or revenue from investments, they will get substantial tax reductions. You need to look at the outcome as a package. I think it was grossly misleading to suggest otherwise.

The member for Charlton talked about the advertising and education campaign. Again I draw her attention to what happened before she came to this place. Her father was actually part of the Labor government that spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns throughout that 13 years that Labor was in government. To suggest that that is something new and inappropriate when we have the biggest single tax change in this government's history, in this country's history, then it is appropriate that people are briefed on what it is all about—

Mr McClelland —$410 million worth.

Mr NUGENT —And I might add that it is not something that is new. As I said before, it is something that your side of politics did on a regular basis. If you added up the bill of the amount of money you spent doing the same sort of thing, you would find it was significantly more than we spent on this occasion.

The previous speaker, the member for Charlton, then talked about her John and Wendy scenario. We hear about whingeing Wendy and John and Wendy on a regular basis in this place from those on the other side. She talked about the need for extra education spending and the need for extra health spending. Of course, all of that has actually occurred. This government has put extra money into health; it has put extra money into education. To suggest otherwise is simply untrue.

The member for Charlton talked about the need for extra growth spending in the broad areas which are the responsibility of the states. She talked about not only health and education but also the police and why the government was not doing more in those areas. The state governments have the responsibility for providing those services. The reality is that the GST will provide the states—all of which, including the ALP states, have signed up with great alacrity to the new tax package—with ongoing growth revenue so that they can provide those facilities and those services. They will, of course, be properly looked after in the future. That is the responsible way to go about these things.

It is very important when we look at the budget and we look at economic management in this country that we do not just try to take a snapshot of any one budget, because clearly budgets are not framed or executed in isolation; we have a continuum. This, of course, was the coalition's fifth budget since it came to government just over four years ago. It is interesting to look at where some of what I would call the base indicators are in the management of the economy of which this budget forms a part.

I first ran for parliament in this country in 1983. I was trying to win a Labor-held marginal and it was the day, 5 March 1983, that Bob Hawke came to power. It was not a good day to be a Liberal trying to win a Labor seat and I went down the tubes with most of the rest of the Liberal Party on that particular occasion. The point I would like to make is that in 1983, when power in this country was transferred from a coalition government to a Labor government, in the part of the country that I represent, the seat of Aston, an outer eastern suburban seat in Melbourne, unemployment was in single digits and mortgage interest rates were also in single digits. Seven years later, in 1990 when I got elected to this place, mortgage interest rates for home buyers were 17 per cent and unemployment was 11 per cent. It seems to me there you have a classic example of how seven years of economic so-called management by the Labor Party had demonstrated an effect on the sorts of things that affect ordinary Australians in my part of the world. It was a disastrous period. Of course, subsequently we came to government and by that time unemployment in my electorate was running at about eight per cent. Since this government has been in power, we have actually brought unemployment in my electorate down to four per cent. Interest rates may have gone up a little bit in the last few months, but they are still around the seven per cent mark and that is a full 10 per cent better than they were when the Labor Party was in power, when I was elected to this place. I mention these factors because it is important to look at economics not just in grand terms, in the bulk numbers and the sweeping statements, but as to how it affects people on the ground. The reason we come to this place is to try to run the country better for our fellow Australians. I think our government has actually had a very proud economic record in the last four years, often in very difficult circumstances. It has not always been easy, and particularly it has not been easy given that much of the rest of the region in which we live has been suffering the so-called Asian financial crisis. Yet we have survived that quite well.

In my electorate, as I said an outer eastern suburban seat in Melbourne, something like 52 per cent of people are aged between 25 and 64. In other words, they are very much in the work force. Twenty-six per cent of people were born overseas or of parents who were born overseas, that is, a quarter of the population are people who have come to this country as migrants or are only a generation removed from that, and they are working hard to get ahead. I might add that I came to this country as a migrant within the last 25 years and, of course, my children are very much in that category as well.

Over 50 per cent of the people in my electorate belong to households made up of a couple with children, a family. It is the fifth highest ratio of families of any electorate in the country. Some 43 per cent of people in my electorate own their house and another 40 per cent are buying. When I was elected in 1990, there were more mortgage payers in my electorate than any other electorate in the country. We have now slipped a bit on the league to about fourth or fifth because the building boom in Melbourne has moved south-east and, therefore, the mortgage boom has moved out a little bit as well. Nevertheless, a large number of people are very much affected by mortgage interest rates. The way the government manages the economy of course has a lot to do with where mortgage interest rates are. Sixty-four per cent of the people in my electorate are in households that have two or more motor vehicles of some description. That is necessary because in my electorate there are no trams or trains. State governments over the years have not provided those things, therefore people do need to have some other means of transportation, not just the one car but a second vehicle—a motorbike or whatever—for people to get about.

Regarding incomes generally, 20 per cent of people earn less than $500 a week, but 18 per cent earn over $1,500. The vast majority, over 60 per cent, are in that $25,000 to $70,000 per annum income bracket which very much represents your average Australian. Employment in my electorate in the 1996 census was around 64 per cent and has gone up. Unemployment is about four per cent today and, as I said earlier, that contrasts very sharply with where it was a few years ago under the ALP government. One of the very interesting factors about my electorate is that 44.5 per cent of women are in the work force. They are in the work force partly because many of them want to be and they want to pursue a career, but they are also in the work force because clearly, with all the families we are talking about, there are kids' expenses, they have to help pay off the mortgage and they need to pay off the second car and so on. It is very much a working electorate, a family electorate, and overwhelmingly a young electorate. Most people are employed in blue collar or semi-skilled white collar areas. We actually have relatively few academics and public servants. We have a lot of small business people and an increasing number of high technology people. Therefore, when we look from my perspective at the budget, I ask: what has it done to help the people in my electorate? If you look at the demographics of my electorate, of course one of the important things is: at what level are interest rates? I have to say very simply, very loudly and very clearly that interest rates are 10 per cent lower than they were 10 years ago when I came to this place. Interest rates are significantly lower than they were under the Labor Government when it went out of office. It seems to me that the coalition government has helped deliver a very practical thing for the residents of my electorate, because lower interest rates mean people have more money in their pocket and that means they are better able to cope.

In addition to interest rates, of course, we are delivering employment. As I said earlier, unemployment in my electorate has fallen from a high 10 years ago of 11 per cent to where it was at eight per cent when we came to government, and in my electorate now it is just under the four per cent mark. In other words, we are providing the jobs that people in my electorate need. Therefore we need to remind people that this government is delivering an economic policy that is actually helping people on the ground. It is doing the things that they need. It is helping them to cope with life; it is helping them to maintain a good standard of living; it is helping them to bring up their kids in a healthy and successful environment; it is providing the wherewithal to do those things.

When we look at the new tax system, it is important to remember that there will be not only a GST and some things will go up, some things will come down, and some things will stay the same because they are exempted, but also substantial compensation for people in all categories so that generally people will be better off. I think that is a lesson which the other side have actually understood. They do not stand up and say it openly—obviously they would not; it would not be a good political thing. But clearly they understand it; or at least their leadership understands it; otherwise the Leader of the Opposition would have been quite prepared to sign that piece of paper that the Treasurer passed to him a few weeks ago saying `On gaining government we'll roll back and abolish the GST altogether'. Of course he knows he is not going to do that; he knows that it is the right thing to do. We have called his bluff and it is important that we tell the people of this country so.

It is also important to understand that the other side frequently engages in scare tactics against our older citizens. I find that one of the most reprehensible activities that goes on in this place. The number of older citizens in my electorate is a relatively small proportion, but it is an important proportion. My electorate would have one of the smaller proportions out of the 148 seats represented in this place, but nevertheless I have nine retirement villages and some 20 facilities that deal one way or another with aged people. It is important to reassure those people that they are not forgotten, that this government is looking after them, that there will be increased pensions for them and that those who are self-funded retirees and the like will get other benefits, by way of tax reductions, savings protections and so on.

The other important area of my electorate in terms of this budget is business. There are something like 8,000 small businesses in the seat of Aston. Many of them are retail outlets, some are small manufacturing places, but increasingly we are finding they are high-tech companies of one sort of another. It is important to remember that what this government has done for those businesses is a whole range of things—there is capital gains tax relief and a whole range of incentives, and, of course, another part of our economic strategy is to reduce taxes on business. We will find those small businesses will be doing an awful lot better in the future. The other side might be trying to run a scare campaign with a lot of those small businesses, but they will find in the future that they will be significantly better off.

I am delighted to see that the minister for workplace relations has just come in. We have a little newspaper cutting here from the Daily Telegraph of today headed `Reith—Workers' friend'. There is no question that this side are the people who look after the workers of the country, not the hypocrites who sit on that side.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.