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Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1240


Senator COONEY(5.14) —This being a first reading debate, perhaps we can be more flexible in what we say than we would normally be in debate. Before I get on to what I was going to say, perhaps I should say something about what Senator MacGibbon said. He made a large scale and grand attack upon all sorts of groups, including the churches. He said that none of them is exempt from criticism for the sorts of attitudes they take. It may just be that, they being Christian churches, the attitudes are based on the teachings of Christ. Senator MacGibbon may well look at that matter. I advise him to look at the source of those religions and see whether that source gives a basis for the sorts of things he has put forward-that we should, as it were, get ourselves into armed camps so that we can, with great trepidation, look across the no-man's-land, ready for the attack which must inevitably come.

Senator MacGibbon said that we must bring East and West to the negotiating table. Everybody agrees with that. But how can he bring East and West to the negotiating table if he is going to label one side as being absolutely incapable of any sort of decency or ability to negotiate? To call for negotiations and then to create a condition, circumstances and a situation in which negotiations cannot take place seems to me to be naive. He said that we have to reduce the political tensions but he made a speech which, in effect, creates political tensions. Senator MacGibbon talked about simplistic gestures. Surely it must be a simplistic gesture to create political tensions and then to sit down with somebody with whom one has created those tensions and expect him to negotiate meaningfully.

He said that he wants peace and I agree with him. He certainly does and so does everybody. But to get peace we have to give people credit where credit is due. We cannot go around labelling these people as drug takers, promoters of suicides and so on. We have to look as best we can to those parts of what they advocate that can be used to bring peace to the world. Are we going to have a situation where we have a tinder-box, where we feed more and more tinder into the box so that if a spark does take place there will be a terrible conflagration, or are we going to try to reduce the amount of tinder in the tinder-box so that ultimately there is nothing that will blow up? Of course we should not have unilateral disarmament. Of course we should have a realistic appraisal of each side. But of course we should realise, hope and pray that the two sides will get to the situation where there can be meaningful negotiations. We will certainly not be able to do that by lampooning, ridiculing and bringing into disrepute those elements in society which are needed for a true and lasting peace.

I turn now to some remarks I want to make about the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2), the Income Tax (Individuals) Bill, the Income Tax (Companies, Corporate Unit Trusts and Superannuation Funds) Bill and the Medicare Levy Bill which are presently before the Senate. These are tax Bills. They are directed towards raising revenue for the Government to carry on its operations. Governments cannot function if they do not have money to carry on their operations. That truism is illustrated by the fate of governments which have been denied Supply. There has been a history of that in this Parliament.

Money and the mechanism by which it is raised and spent are vital to the viability of government. Anyone denying the proposition ignores reality. Accordingly, government must give great attention to economic factors-the sources of revenue, the objects of expenditure, the creation of wealth, the balance of payments, the inflow and outflow of finance from and to other countries, inflation and the rate of growth. On the other hand, to regard economic matters as the only or main concern of government or of the community within which it operates is to misconceive what society is all about.

Freedom is more important than economic well-being. I think that point was implicit in what Senator MacGibbon said and I agree with him on that. I disagree strongly with the ways he suggested that we should go about doing that. In any event, freedom is more important than economic well-being. I do not want to undertake the exercise of defining freedom in this debate, which is limited, but most people have a good idea of what is meant by it. In its true sense it is a quality more valuable than economic well-being. Often freedom is dependent upon economic security, but freedom is the objective and economic security the means. It is not the reverse of that situation which is important.

For example, deregulation may or may not be a good thing. I will not comment on that in the context of this speech. Indeed, whether it is good or bad may depend upon the circumstances in which it operates. But deregulation should not be seen as an end in itself. Freedom should not be seen as a means of creating wealth, making a profit or obtaining financial advantage. Deregulation is often argued in those terms. Deregulation is seen as a freedom for economic activity, as if freedom were the means and the economic activity the end. That is a reversal of the true situation. Production, trade and industry should be seen as an infrastructure for freedom. Good economics does not mean a good society. It may mean the opposite. Indeed it will mean the opposite unless a sense of morality informs the community. I will quote-it is certainly worth quoting-Richard Crossman who, in the early 1950s, wrote the following:

Every economic system, whether capitalist or socialist, degenerates into a system of privilege and exploitation unless it is policed by a social morality, which can only reside in a minority of citizens. Every political party degenerates into office-seeking, unless its leaders are faced by an opposition within the ranks. Every church becomes a vested interest without its heretics, and every political system, including democracy, ossifies into an oligarchy. Freedom is always in danger and the majority of mankind will always acquiesce in its loss, unless a majority is willing to challenge--

or a minority is willing to challenge--

the privileges of the few and the apathy of the masses.

He continued:

We cannot fulfil it so long as we base our policy on the materialist fallacy that material progress makes men either free or equal. One particularly vicious form of this fallacy is the belief in social change and that if we achieve economic justice, we automatically secure human freedom.

In that context I want to say that expressions used in debates on economics such as `cutting up the cake' and `increasing the size of the cake' raise concepts that put at risk the just, benign, society. They imply that what government is about is economic advantage. The concepts are expressed in other ways as well, such as the `need for a profit' and the `need for a reasonable economic reward'. It is not that these things are bad in themselves but they are given a primacy that tends to warp the concept of community. As President Kennedy said, let us not ask what the country can do for us but what we can do for the country.

Concomitant with a process which demands more and more in economic terms for various interest groups is a process whereby those groups become more and more adversarial in their relations. Since gain is the objective, and there is only a certain amount to be gained, a battle breaks out amongst groups in society to demand what each sees as its just reward.

Tax avoidance and evasion, demands for a greater and greater share of what is produced and an indifference, if not a hostility, to other groups in the same society are all syndromes of the malady of the predominance of economics. It is worth while in times such as this, when we are debating the first reading of some Bills, that such matters are brought into prominence. We can speak for as long as we like about who should get what, who should obtain the greater share of what is produced, who are the true producers and who are not, whether people should get tax free benefits and whether they should get a free lunch. We could talk for weeks about the injustices of those matters but, in the end, if we are to be a community which thinks purely in terms of a selfish end for each group within that community, we will not get anywhere.

Senator MacGibbon said that people think too simplistically. I am not sure whether that is right. Perhaps we are not thinking simply enough. Perhaps we should be thinking more and more in terms of the old virtues. I go back to Senator MacGibbon's attack on peace groups and put in that context the concept I have of getting back to more simple and altruistic actions. When he slammed the peace movement he was slamming such people at Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They may well have been naive but they initiated greater and, more particularly, more just reform in this world than the more hard-eyed and the more cynical negotiators we have around the tables who try, through a show of force, through a show of arms and through a show of aggression, to get peace. When one thinks about it, it is a concept which must ultimately fail because the means used to obtain the end are so aggressive that they can only cause a situation in which the holocaust-which Senator MacGibbon disavows-might well occur. With the amount of weapons and nuclear armament around, if the whole world is not blown apart certainly a most significant part of it will be.

I conclude by saying: Let us look at the more basic virtues in society, the more basic humanity that people have, and reject the aggression that Senator MacGibbon said has been shown and get back to a more just society. We can do this only by having more just concepts.