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Wednesday, 2 May 1984
Page: 1498

Senator CROWLEY(3.47) —I find it quite remarkable and farcical that the Opposition should bring on a matter of public importance devoted to the topic of the Government's rush to an unnecessary election this year before economic recovery fades. (Quorum formed) I had not even finished explaining to the Senate the farcical nature of this matter of public importance before the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) felt that I should have a larger audience. I think it is fair to say that there are four-actually five, at a further count-Opposition senators present. Clearly, the Opposition does not feel it is necessary to listen to its speakers in this most significant discussion about unnecessary elections before economic recovery fades, or the deferral of unpopular issues until after the election. It seems to choke in the Opposition's throat that the Labor Government can play politics too.

It needs to be understood first, if we start with facts and resort to rhetoric later, that the principal reason that there has to be an election late this year or early next year is the decision taken by the then Prime Minister, Mr Malcom Fraser, to call a double dissolution for March last year. It is due to that, and to nothing else, that we have to have a Senate election before May 1985.

Senator Robert Ray —Then the big jib cried.

Senator CROWLEY —I think it could be said, Senator Ray, that the best way that it was all described was by Tandberg in that endlessly repeated cartoon of endlessly exact humour. Mr Fraser has required the necessity for a half Senate election late this year or early next year, and Mr Hawke, being well aware of the cost to the taxpayer of unnecessary elections, has hoped to have a House of Representatives election at the same time. It has to be borne in mind just what the cost to the taxpayer of an election is. It is an enormous sum. Some $17m can go into an election. Why foist this upon the Australian people when, quite conveniently, the two elections can be held at once? We have heard much discussion, too, during the debate here about electoral reform and the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and of the discussions raised by members of the Opposition too about the unnecessary costs of unnecessary elections-and here they go, giving us a bit of a serve today about daring to do it. As Senator Ray so exactly and nicely pointed out previously in this debate, it is their past record of calling endless early elections that stands and yet they have the gall and the bravado-they are quite cheeky today-to stand here and criticise the Government for political competence.

So, we must have an election for the half Senate before next year and it is, as members of the Opposition have also argued in the debate about the Commonwealth Electoral Act, the Government's right to choose the time of an election, which is one of the principal arguments against the fixed term with no room for any flexibility or variation. The Government of the day may make the choice because the Government of the day is in business of making wise political choices about when to go to an election so as to retain government. The Government also decides at what time it will introduce its legislation, unashamedly so. So we do not mind the Opposition carping and criticising. We just understand that that is the real world. If Opposition members want to spend some hours today in air time telling the people of Australia what most of them know, good on them.

It is necessary to remind the people of what Senator Chaney thinks of them. He said during his speech that there are intelligent people out there who understand what the issues are but the rest, who are a dimly perceiving part of the electorate, are being snowed. If that is Senator Chaney's perception of the electorate, the dimly perceiving masses, I think that that is a terrible insult to the electorate of Australia. Most of them are very well aware of the unnecessary debate that is proceeding here, and mostly they are not dimly perceiving; they understand very well, and they would understand even better if they were presented with proper topics and proper facts and reasonable arguments , instead of silly wastes of time about how naughty it is for the Government to go early. We can be quite clear that the election has been foisted upon us by the previous Government. This Government's responsible co-operation in regard to that necessary half Senate election is to tie the House of Representatives election to it and, therefore, to avoid the enormous costs to the people of unnecessary extra elections.

I have heard the Opposition say any number of times that we have a Prime Minister who basks in the sun-lamp of popularity, that he is a very vain Prime Minister. Perhaps it is better to bask in the vanity of popular appeal than in the vanity of brown skin from a ray-lamp. If we are talking about vanity, I should like to draw to the Senate's attention a little ditty on which I was reared:

Vanity in women?

What about men?

Think of the peacock.

Was he a hen?

It is a particularly pertinent piece to introduce at this stage. Vanity amongst politicians of the day is not novel, but it seems to me that to be vain about being popular, if that is what the Opposition claims, to be vain about being successful in government and to be vain about the effects of the changes and improvements that one is bringing about in the lot of people in Australia, is a much better thing to be vain about than to be vain about being the Leader of the Opposition and, as Senator Ray so aptly put it, an ineffectual Leader of the Opposition.

The Opposition is very troubled about the prospect of an early election, because it is very clear to Opposition members that they will lose it. They will lose a half Senate election and a House of Representatives election. They are leaderless and without policy. Their attempts at policy are very ineffectual. So instead of producing anything of substance that they might want to tell the people would be reasons for voting for them, they come into this place and give the Government a kick or two about why the Government has been so effective and why so many people support the Government at present and will support it at the next election whenever it is held. Prime Minister Hawke and the Labor Government are unafraid about the timing of the election, given that it must happen within the next 12 to 15 months. There is no worry on the Government side, because the Government can stand on its record in office. It is a short term of office to date. It is a term of great achievement. To date, 210,000 jobs have been created since the Government came to office. Inflation is down by a number of points. Interest rates have fallen and unemployment is down. All of those figures are well known to the electorate, not in terms of the score that appears in the papers but in terms of the changing quality of their lives. They know that they are better off. We have reports of some increase in the consumer-led part of the recovery in the economy at present. One does not get consumer-led recovery unless people have some money to spend.

Senator Collard wanted to attribute it all to the breaking of the drought. That is an exercise in stretching cause and connection. While, of course, the breaking of the drought has contributed to the recovery of the economy to some extent, it has not created jobs in manufacturing and in the city areas nor has it led to the consumer-led recovery that we are seeing. The breaking of the drought is nothing like a total accounting for it. While of course we allow that it contributes to the recovery, it is not the be all and end all of that recovery. It is a silly and trite analysis to attribute the economic recovery to rains falling on the rural sector.

Senator Chaney —Oh, is that silly? It has no economic effect?

Senator CROWLEY —I concede that it has a whole lot of economic effect, Senator. I am simply saying that it is not all. It does not create jobs and it does not necessarily bring down unemployment.

Senator Chaney —Of course it creates jobs. Good heavens.

Senator CROWLEY —It contributes to some job creation, Senator, but not all. I shall no doubt hear Senator Chaney speaking on this matter on other occasions. I shall remind him from time to time of the groans and grunts that he is contributing at this stage.

The other point to which I should like to allude is the cracks served at the Government by Senator Collard about the consumer price index and the artificial manoeuvering that he claims the Government is undertaking with Medicare. For a start, the Liberal Opposition would know all about that, because it did it five to seven times during the previous seven years. However, this Government will allow that Medicare has an effect on the CPI, which is one of the reasons why, at the same time, it has been indexing pensions and increasing them. But the CPI is not something that is made up by government and it is not a government policy . It is an independently arranged set of figures or appraisals drawn up by economists and, presumably, people in the Treasury. It is from time to time being reviewed. So while the Opposition might want to criticise it, the very newspapers to which the Opposition alluded previously have referred today to the CPI as being an inexact tool, perhaps, but a fairly consistent one over the last few years. It is precisely because of the effects that the CPI allows that one can make the claims that the Opposition makes about the effect of Medicare. The Opposition's claims are right, but they are based on the fact of the CPI and what it does or does not have within it. If it is an inexact tool but a consistent one, it is the best that we have to go on, and it aligns itself fairly well with a measure of the economic recovery in this country. Before the Opposition kicks the Government in the head for the CPI, it should get it clear that the Government is not the total designer of the CPI. If the Opposition wants to change that, why does it not bring forward some legislation? Why does it not propose to the Government that the Government changes what goes into the CPI?

Senator Robert Ray —They never did anything about it.

Senator CROWLEY —Indeed they did not, except to manoeuvre it, as I said, with their own Medicare or variations on themes throughout the time of the Fraser Government. The last part of this remarkable matter of public importance refers to the deferral of unpopular issues until after the election. I am delighted, Senator Chaney, to be able to read to you from your own words during a debate last night.

Senator Robert Ray —That is a bit unfair.

Senator CROWLEY —It is a bit unfair. I admit that. I rarely get it served up on a platter. Senator Chaney cannot have it both ways. Either the Government is responsible for deferring unpopular issues or the combined effect of the Opposition in this Senate is responsible. Last night Senator Chaney said:

I believe, for example, that the threat that we made in this Senate-a threat between the Australian Democrats and the Opposition-that we would delay the assets test legislation until February was a threat which has served the people of Australia well.

Those are Senator Chaney's words and he owns the responsibility of a threat that made this Government defer that legislation. He then comes in here and says that the Government is to be castigated for deferring unpopular issues. Senator Chaney cannot have it both ways. I really think that the honourable senator has to admit in this case that it was he who claimed responsibility for deferring some to those issues. It was the honourable senator who last night was pleased to talk about the obstruction, so called, of the combined opposition in this Senate that required the Senate to be reflective and thoughtful in its deliberation upon legislation. If he wants the thought and the deliberation he cannot at the same time critise the Government for deferring legislation when he owns the responsibility for the deferral of some of those decisions. This matter of public importance is a matter of complete nonsense. It is, I think, designed to get air time on a Wednesday for the Senate and I thank the Opposition for allowing me to contribute.