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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1787

Senator COONEY(9.08) —Senator MacGibbon said that the Appropriation Bills characterise the Labor Government, and so they do. I take that as high praise because these Bills indicate this Government's thrust in the context of financial responsibility to give the citizens of this country the sorts of returns that they can properly expect from government. The reality is that this Government does not go about its task as Senator MacGibbon would if he were in charge-that is, cut everything to the bone, cast people into poverty, forget about the child welfare programs, forget about the moneys paid to educate our children, forget about the health facilities that are provided, forget about the needs of people who have to pay off their mortgages, buy their food and seek to live a reasonable and frugal life which is all many can do on the sorts of wages that are now paid. Senator MacGibbon would do away with all that. He would simply say: `Look, let us cut down expenditure on those things; let us save money; let us encourage the mythical entrepreneur who can only be encouraged if he pays nothing and contributes nothing to this country'. That is the proposition that is put forward. He would, of course, agree to tax people on the lower end of the scale at the rate of 30c in the dollar which is considerably more than this Government is in fact going to do. But that does not matter because they are not the sorts of people in whom Senator MacGibbon is interested.

The reality is that this Government has concern for everybody across Australia, including those who produce the wealth. Those who produce the wealth are not only the entrepreneurs but also the people who work around this country.

It is often put in these debates that the only people who ought to be considered are those who own the various factories and places of production around the country. Of course, they are very important people. However, also important and essential to the economy are those who get out and work. As soon as those people get a rise in wages and as soon as they are given a share in the wealth that they produce, there is an immediate outcry from the people opposite and terrible concern shown that so much money should be given to those people who in very large part are very near, if not on, the poverty line. They live most frugally.

The Opposition has come in here today and said: `Look, here is a fall in the dollar'. It has presented the matter as if people in this country have suddenly had their purchasing power reduced by 30 per cent or some other ridiculous figure. The fact is that people who were able to purchase their goods yesterday will similarly be able to purchase their goods tomorrow.

Senator Parer —He is not a great economist.

Senator COONEY —Somebody says that I am not a great economist. What comes from across the chamber, from Senator Parer, is a remark which shows that he is concerned only with the economic elements that go into government. I think that deep down he probably is concerned. He is a man with some compassion, but because he feels compelled to put on the aspect of the hard and harsh economist, he speaks only in economic terms. He does not speak in terms of the social cost of the policies which his party would put into operation and would visit upon the poor and the down-trodden in this country. I am sure that at the end of this speech he will be convinced the other way and that he will take back to Queensland that concept of social equity which is needed to make good government.

In talking about the economy, let us look at this economy that the other side says is going so badly. What have we got? We have got a real growth in domestic production which is nearly 5 per cent this year; a growth that cannot be matched elsewhere in the world. Real private consumption expenditure has grown rapidly. There is a continued improvement in labour market conditions, as shown in figures released today, which shows that the level of unemployment has fallen below 8 per cent. I comment on that point that for anybody to be unemployed in this country is outrageous, is a scandal and is something that we all, not only polititians but also the whole community ought to move to correct. It is a dreadful thing that people should be unemployed. I simply put that forward as an indication that this Government is undertaking policies which are at least resulting in a downward trend in the unemployment situation. It is encouraging that there is certainly a turnabout in the unemployment situation so far as our youth are concerned. I think we all agree across party lines that the great tragedy is the unemployment that youth is experiencing. Certainly the statistics that came out today indicate that there is some reason for optimism there. However, our efforts should be renewed and be renewed again to counter the dreadful unemployment that exists amongst youth and the dreadful unemployment that exists amongst the community as a whole.

They are the sorts of issues that should be considered, rather than the question of whether somebody should get a deduction for a lunch costing something like $200 which he has with somebody else, ostensibly to do business, or even if he were doing business. Are they the sorts of people that we should be primarily concerned about or should we be concerned about the unemployed and the situation of our youth? Should we be concerned about the average worker in this nation who cannot afford the $200 lunches that other people enjoy each day?

The appropriation Bills provide an economic framework whereby the real concerns of this nation can be considered. For example, if one looks at the economic indicators for South Australia one finds that the employment situation in the three months to September this year compared with a similar period in 1984 has improved by 2.9 per cent. The total unemployment over the same period in South Australia has been reduced by 8.5 per cent. Registration of new motor vehicles in South Australia has increased by 7.9 per cent. The value of retail sales in the three months to August 1985 compared with a similar period the year before has increased by 11.5 per cent. Investment over the 12 months to June 1986 is expected to go up by a massive 43.4 per cent. Bankruptcies, which are a great indication of the situation, are down by 14.8 per cent. I take South Australia as an indication of how this nation is improving and going forward under this Government. But what happens? As soon as there is something that Opposition senators feel they can grab hold of, the first thing they do when they get out of bed in the morning, without doing the exercises that they normally do, is--

Senator Parer —Careful.

Senator COONEY —Imagine Senator Parer forgoing the normal exercise he undertakes in the morning to race down to get the papers to see whether there is something he can glean from them which he can use in this chamber to denigrate a mighty effort put up by this Government. The one thing Opposition senators have found is the fall in the dollar, a dollar which is subject to market forces. It goes up and down because that is what happens on the market.

Senator Parer —No, it has sunk.

Senator COONEY —Of course it has sunk. But what I am saying to the honourable senator is that it is one element in a whole series of indicators about the economy. We simply cannot extrapolate one indicator from a whole series of indicators and say that the economy is going bad. I would have thought that that sort of statement follows as a matter of course.

Senator McKiernan —Not if you are a National.

Senator COONEY —There you are. Let us look at the sorts of things these appropriation Bills do and what this Government has done in the social security field. Rent assistance and the family allowance have increased.

Senator Peter Baume —From when? From next November.

Senator COONEY —No, from November 1985 the family allowance is to be increased for families with multiple births.

Senator Peter Baume —Tell us about the poverty traps measured not coming in until November next year.

Senator COONEY —I will take the honourable senator up on that. He asks about the poverty traps that the Government is going to remove. We are going to do that. The honourable senator says that it ought to be done as soon as possible and he is absolutely correct. Of course is should be done as soon as possible. Economic stringencies will permit it to be done later down the track, but it is going to be done, whereas the proposition which has been put from the benches opposite is that those sorts of things should not be done, that the big thing is to cut down on aid to those who are least able to withstand the economic rigours in this community. That is what the debate is all about. All these things should be done, as the honourable senator suggests. I pay tribute to the concern the honourable senator shows to those in difficulty in this community. I applaud the concern he shows for the proposals that the Government is suggesting to be implemented even more quickly than they are at the moment. But they have to be done within the economic context. This is being done with the compassion and spirit of concern for our fellow citizens which, unfortunately, not enough people opposite are showing. Opposition senators want to cut down on all these things so that money can be saved for a particular section of the community. It would be wrong for me to say, and I do not say that the entrepreneurs, the people who those opposite say produce the income, should in any way be denied their just rewards. Again, they should be given those rewards in a context whereby everybody in this community must take a stake in what the community has to offer.

When talking about the falling dollar it is well to remember that the article in the Australian Financial Review from which the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, quoted during his address earlier this afternoon in the context of the fall in value of the dollar was an article about the Liberals and Australian Democrats hotting up their attacks on the tax package. Senator Siddons, who often shows in this chamber a most admirable approach to matters, now considers that entertainment expenses may be legitimate tax deductions. He says that it is too tough to cut them out immediately. Senator Peter Baume says that the people for whom we ought to have concern are those whose circumstances are very reduced. However, in spite of that, Senator Siddons and the Democrats want to deny those people the sort of help that everybody with any sort of compassion agrees they ought to have in favour of people who go out for a free lunch.

I keep coming back to this point. I do not want to suggest for one minute that it would not be a good thing for people to discuss business over lunch. Indeed, it might be legitimate, were this economy able to stand it, to allow some sort of deduction for that. But, in circumstances where there is only a certain amount of money to go around and where there are all sorts of other needs, such as the need for family-based day care centres, the need for health services and education and the needs of people who find it very difficult to pay off the mortgages on their houses and who are not able to enjoy to the full the luxuries other people enjoy, it seems almost obscene that some people should be able to have a free lunch at their expense.

Senator McKiernan —Why not breakfast?

Senator COONEY —It is suggested that these people be given a free breakfast as well as a free lunch. It just shows how this sort of flow-on effect can occur. That is one of the problems. What will we be asked for next? If we concede the free lunch, next it will be free breakfasts and free dinners. A strong attack has been made on the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the union movement by Senator MacGibbon. I am the last person to declare that the union movement should not be subject to the law as everybody else is. I am the last person to suggest that, together with other units in the community, the union movement at times does not perform as well as it might.

Senator Puplick —Does that apply to section 45D in terms of being subject to the law, like everybody else?

Senator COONEY —Senator Puplick talks about section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. A problem arises here. What this community really needs is to pull together as a community, a nation and a group of people whether farmers, business people, workers, the unemployed, the unfortunate, or unionists. We should not be placed in a situation whereby the seeds of aggression or war are sown amongst us. The trouble with Senator Puplick's comment is that it suggests that there ought to be the big policeman, that the rest of the community should, as it were, gang up on a group of people-the unionists, the ACTU-and crush them and that all the sins and all that goes wrong with the nation should be visited upon their heads. That is just not right. Aggression in union affairs and aggression in business, between employer and employee, should be avoided at all costs.

The difficulty with the way in which section 45D has been applied is that it creates divisions. Industrial relations matters could be better dealt with in other ways, for example, by amendments to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That is the Act to which industrial relations amendments should be made. Certainly, the Trade Practices Act, the intention of which was aimed at other features, should not be used to create disturbances or to create more problems in the community than need otherwise exist.

This afternoon Senator Chaney, the Leader of the Opposition, quoted from today's Australian Financial Review. What about the Australian Financial Review of yesterday which gives a better perspective on other problems that exist in the community? As I have said, the union movement is subject to the sort of criticism that we all make from time to time of any institution in the community, and I am willing to concede that. Why is the Opposition not willing to concede that entrepreneurs and people who run businesses also need to look to their laurels to see where they are going and to look for a proper basis for advancement? Yesterday's Australian Financial Review suggests that there is a complete lack in the business community of that entrepreneurial spirit that is so needed. The editorial states:

Unfortunately, too few sponsors are prepared to bet on uncertainty in modern Australia. The desire to have government guarantees, tax write-offs and high protectionist barriers still pervades a significant area of Australian business.

It goes on to say:

If Australia's horse-racing tradition can establish a basis for business entrepreneurship or willingness to take well-calculated gambles on uncertainties, then it has at last begun to serve the country well.

The Opposition ought to balance its criticism of the work place and stop blaming simply the good, hard-working, honest workmen who go out every day to battle for their families. If it wants to criticise them, which I certainly do not, it should balance that criticism by looking to the fact that it is about time that those people whom we seem to have to feed again and again with help from governments showed a little initiative and produced goods not for the sake simply of profits but for the sake of Australia as a whole. Things would be much better if that were done. But we hear no criticism at all of that section of the community from the other side of the chamber.

When Government senators come into this chamber they are met with allegations that the Government must free up the labour market, cut the size of government and improve efficiency. Those are all lovely phrases and they might excite people. They all sound very good, but they also sound very glib and they show a very poor regard for the people that we are, the sort of culture that we live in and the values that we place in the community. Senator MacGibbon illustrated the Opposition's view well. He said that he wants to remove the Human Rights Commission. He wants to downgrade public broadcasting and the sorts of institutions that are central to the way in which we conduct our lives. He wants to remove an institution which protects our rights and our liberties and he wants to downgrade the broadcasting institution which sets the pattern for our cultural achievements, which helps to develop our concept as a nation and to establish the concept of unity. Those proposals are consistent with the cultural cringe, and they seem to be the sorts of proposals that Senator MacGibbon likes to develop.

Senator MacGibbon talked about overseas judgments. He certainly talked about them in terms of our currency. Apparently, he feels that we in Australia cannot make judgments relating to our situation and that the only judgments worth having are those made overseas. Even though he used the phrase `overseas judgments' only in terms of the economy, certainly when he talked on behalf of the Opposition about the Human Rights Commission and similar bodies and the downgrading of the broadcasting service, he suggested that the Opposition was about devaluing the Australian tradition and, unfortunately, downgrading our values and our efforts. It is necessary for us to pull together as a nation, to see ourselves as a great nation determined to battle our way out of our present economic problems, insofar as they exist, to develop a concept of ourselves as a unified nation, and to go on to greater and greater things. Senator MacGibbon said that the Government has no regard for business; I pick up a headline in the Weekend Australian, which is not a paper given to praising the Australian Labor Party for anything it may do in its approach to the unions. The article by Andrew Kruger in New York, talking about Mr Taylor, who is our Consul-General there, states:

American business leaders are enthusiastic about news that the Hawke Government has reached an agreement with the trade union movement over wage discounting to offset the devaluation of the Australian dollar.

Here the Opposition is saying that we should look to the overseas evaluation of the Australian economy and the way the Government is running it. American leaders are enthusiastic about the Hawke Government because it has reached an agreement with the union movement about wage discounting to offset the devaluation of the Australian dollar. The article continues:

The man most in touch with business leaders in New York is Australia's Consul-General Mr John Taylor, who said yesterday: `Certainly, when I arrived in New York just about 12 months ago, I had the feeling that whenever there was a decision, people said ``Well, that's a good decision, but what will happen next?''

Andrew Kruger goes on to say:

His assessment of the reaction to the Government's wage discounting deal with the ACTU is based on conversations with such financial heavyweights.

He cites the heavyweights, including Mr Rawdon Dalrymple, the Chairman of Citibank and other key businessmen in New York to whom he spoke. Mr Dalrymple says that the Hawke Government's entering into agreements with the unions is very sensible and much to be praised. So there we are.

Senator Puplick —What would you expect our Ambassador to say?

Senator COONEY —Honourable members opposite keep going back to this cultural cringe. They say `This Ambassador is not worth listening to; the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is not worth reading' and so on. Anyhow, the thrust of the matter is there.

Senator Georges —Get stuck into them.

Senator COONEY —I do not have to get stuck into them because the statistics that show how the Australian economy is running get stuck into them. The Opposition has run around looking for figures that indicate that something is wrong with the Australian economy. Having searched and searched, it has come up with one thing, and it has been talking about it all day-a fall of some cents in the Australian dollar. It says: `There we are; we will create a great campaign in this Parliament'. It is not the sort of campaign that will fool the Australian people when they look at all the statistics that should be considered, when they see the falling unemployment rate, when they see that overseas opinion about the way this Government is going is very favourable. Apparently what the Australian people think is irrelevant to the Opposition's consideration of how things go, and it has resorted to two things. Firstly, this alleged disaster in the fall of the dollar and, secondly, the trade union movement, which the Opposition hopes to use as a scapegoat, as an object of hate, to enable it to crawl back to power in some way.

I think that the people of Australia who are listening to this will agree that it is a pretty poor effort that that is the way the Opposition goes about doing things. This Government, in contrast to how things were in 1981, 1982 and into 1983, is bringing back to Australia a sense of self-respect and an economy that is going forward. If anything is going forward too rapidly, it needs the restraint of interest rates. If that was not so the economy would overheat. A couple of years down the line, when the next election is held, the policies of this Government will be well and truly vindicated.