Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 11 November 1985
Page: 1926

Senator PETER BAUME(8.43) —I begin my contribution to this debate by congratulating Senator Tate on an excellent speech. He may or may not be pleased to receive plaudits from this side of the House but his concentration upon the entitlement of the people of any part of the world to be free of repression, to be free of any repressive regime, and his drawing attention to Australia's funding of what may be inappropriate aid in terms of that repression we can only applaud. The honourable senator has had perhaps a difficult year, having presided, I think with great distinction, over a very difficult committee a year or so ago. I assure him that he has the congratulations of honourable senators on this side of the House upon the job that he did there.

As I listened to Senator Tate talk about the Philippines I thought of the situation facing us in South Africa. I would like to reiterate that for those of liberal persuasion the starting point for considering problems in southern Africa at present has to be our complete and utter abhorrence and rejection of any system of government, such as the state system of apartheid that operates there, which is a system based on inequality and repression and secured by statute on the basis of racial difference. Such a system is totally abhorrent to all of us who have come down through the liberal philosophical tradition. Goodness me, we fought these battles last century, if not necessarily on the basis of race, on numerous other bases. We were the people who were fighting first, of course, in the early part of the nineteenth century to end slavery, to change the Factory Acts, and to try to obtain religious toleration. We were the people who sought the franchise for all adults in our community. To see now a society where race is used as a basis to deny full citizenship, as South Africa does, as a basis to deny the franchise, as South Africa does, as a basis to deny the right to travel freely within the nation, as South Africa does, as a basis for not allowing people to marry whom they wish, as South Africa does, and as a basis for securing inequalities in education and in the right to promotion, has to offend and be totally offensive to all those who come from the liberal philosophical tradition. In view of the debate at present it is worth making that point and reminding honourable senators that the statement made on behalf of the Opposition and in the name of the then Leader, Andrew Peacock, on 19 August made that crystal clear. Of course, the debate in Australia is not whether some people support apartheid and some people do not. We on this side reject it as totally unacceptable. I think that the Government made its position similarly clear when it said that it totally rejected apartheid.

Senator Walsh —Are you sure you speak for everyone? Do you speak for Senator Boswell?

Senator PETER BAUME —I speak for everyone in my Party. That is our position. We reject apartheid. The argument is about the best way to effect change in that system. My Leader, John Howard, in answer to a question recently on television and radio in relation to the appointment of our former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, by the Labor Government made it quite clear that he welcomed the appointment. He was asked whether he did not see differences between his stand and that of Mr Fraser. Mr Howard said that there were no differences between them on their abhorrence of apartheid; the differences related to the ways to effect change. We make it clear we will not have a bar of supporting the system of apartheid. It is offensive to every ideal of freedom and liberty on which we have based our political beliefs and our political position.

Listening to Senator Tate I was reminded of course that today, 11 November, is an important anniversary. For those who may not remember, we are wearing poppies because today is the sixty-seventh anniversary of the ending of the Great War in 1918. I am sure that this morning honourable senators were aware of the fact that this is a very significant day, commemorating as it does that war which was to be a `war to end all wars' but which was sadly only the prelude to further war. It was a war in which this country suffered grievously and a war which we remember with a fair amount of sadness. In November 1985, 67 years later, it is possible for me to look back on the last 40 years almost as a belle epoch. Perhaps it is not quite like the belle epoch at the end of the nineteenth century when there was genuine peace for an unprecedented 40 years throughout Europe. However, imperfect beings as we are, for the past 40 years now we have managed to avoid nuclear conflict. The position today is that the world looks more secure and safer from the risk of nuclear holcaust or nuclear conflict than it has for many years. If we look at the kind of society we are to bequeath to our children we see it has to be a society that will continue that current belle epoch so our children will be able to grow up free of the risk or prospect of nuclear war.

This does not involve some argument as to whether we have certain bases in our country or whether we do not. The people who argue that those bases make us nuclear targets tell us in the next breath that the first nuclear weapon fired in anger means the end of everyone and that it does not matter whether we are the first target or the last because any nuclear conflict is likely to prove fatal to us all. Liberal concern is liberal concern about peace and the maintenance of peace. Again, if we have arguments with any of our political opponents, they are not about that goal. They are about the best way of securing that goal not just now but for decades to come. On looking back over 40 years and looking today at the fact that there is no high risk of any kind of nuclear conflict, we believe that the policies which we have followed, which have been the basis of our foreign policy, and which largely underpin the policies of the Australian Labor Party too, have enabled us to maintain the peace.

The Russians today are more prepared to talk to the United States because the United States is strong. The dangers we in this country face are the dangers which arise more from those who preach unilateral disarmament either openly or indirectly through the various peace movements, not out of malice but because they do not understand where their policies take us. Those people pose the great danger to this country, whether they be Australian Democrats or members of the Nuclear Disarmament Party, or what is left of whatever it is called these days. They appeal to the romanticism and idealism of the young but give them no decent policies to match those which have worked now for 30 or 40 years and which will continue to work. There is no benefit to anyone in this Parliament in being party to policies which make this world less safe. To pretend that by putting a notice on our streets which says that a particular municipality is nuclear free we are doing anything to advance peace is, of course, an act of self-delusion which is a not inconsiderable part of much of what is going on in this debate.

This country is not a nuclear power-we do not have nuclear weapons-nor do we want to be, but we value the peace which we have enjoyed for all my adult life. Like many of my colleagues here, I am old enough to remember the horror of the films and photographs of World War II and to have had it reinforced by the conventional wars that have occurred, alas too frequently, in the last 15 years. Nevertheless, the policies of keeping strong alliances and talking from a position of strength have enabled the world today to be more peaceful and further away from the risk of nuclear conflict than it has been for many years. If that is our goal, let us at least acknowledge that for 40 years we have been successful. Let us end this nonsense of saying that in some way we have failed totally. The people who are failing this country are those who are urging unilateralism, as I said, either openly or through a series of indirect proposals.

In the time allowed I wish to raise several other matters relating to government policy and activity. I start by referring to some of the matters raised by my colleague and friend, Senator Sir John Carrick, who drew attention to the parlous state of Australia's economy today. I acknowledge that the Labor Government can cite some growth figures and certain profit figures which look quite satisfactory but there must be some reason why the international judgment on this country is negative and why world markets have decided that this Government, wherever it is taking Australia, is taking us the wrong way. Several matters concern me, including the deficit, the number of Australians still unable to find work, high interest rates which threaten so many businesses, expenditure levels of this Government and the fact that our currency is in disarray.

The Government may not care about the deficit. It may claim to have cut back, but the fact remains that its deficits over its period in government have added enormously to the debt we will bequeath to our children and leave for them to repay. As a nation living beyond its means, every dollar that is borrowed by the Treasurer, Mr Keating, and by the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, must be repaid by someone. The debt will be repaid by our children long after Senator Walsh has departed the scene. It will not be his worry; he will leave it for another generation to bear and to carry. The debt he will leave them will give them less capacity to manage their own affairs. In 10, 15 or 20 years time more and more of their budget will be spent in rolling over and servicing the loans and the debts which have been incurred by the Hawke Labor Government to date, just as we are having to roll over the Whitlam loans and the Whitlam debts, incurred one decade ago but still here for us to pay off. This indebtedness is one of the great burdens that Senator Walsh and his colleagues will leave to other Australians to pay off when they have had their fun.

Senator Sir John Carrick talked about the jobless figures and about the level of unemployment. I was attracted to an article in the Australian newspaper of 8 November in which the jobless figures were discussed. The figures for the last month show that fewer Australians are participating in the work force now than was the case a month ago. We have the paradox of the Government announcing with great fanfare that the number of registered unemployed people has dropped. But then we discover that the number of people employed has also dropped and that the labour force itself has shrunk. We will applaud every new permanent job that is created. We are not here to pretend that no jobs have been created; but I do not want the Government saying how wonderful it is that 23,000 extra people came off the unemployment rolls in October when in fact the employment level fell by almost the same amount-actually a little more; it fell by more than 26,000 people. The Government should be saying that the situation remains as serious as ever. If some of the Ministers were to go out into parts of my electorate where poverty is great, where hope is missing, where jobs cannot be found, and tell those people how good the employment figures have been in the last month, they would be given a very different answer.

What is the Government's answer to interest rates? The answer of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is: `You will have to learn to live with them'. What does that mean? It means that every one of us who is paying off a mortgage has just received another letter stating that our monthly repayments will be greater. Our monthly repayments have to go up because of the financial mismanagement of this Government, which is giving us record interest rates and record real interest rates-certainly the highest for the last half-century. Real interest rates are enormously high and are continuing to rise. We will see a number of businesses in Australia go to the wall or fail, simply because they cannot afford to service the money they must borrow to keep running. That is one of the legacies of the high interest rates which are part of this Government's program.

Of course, interest rates have to be high because the mismanagement going on in Australia today has left our currency in disarray. The trade weighted index, which is a measurement of the value of our currency, is lower now than it has ever been. It has dropped by an enormous amount-I think by 25 per cent-in the last three months. While other currencies have been falling, ours has been falling faster. The judgment of the international community is that Australia's money and Australia's economy are not worth much. We are not much of an investment prospect. People do not want our money. Australians are still travelling abroad but it is only when they arrive overseas that they find what this currency drop really means.

Senator Kilgariff —They are beggars.

Senator PETER BAUME —They are beggars. We are now the paupers travelling the world because each dollar we take out from Australia will not buy us even US70c. We change our money and we pay enormous prices just to eat and to travel around. That again is a legacy of Senator Walsh and his fellow Cabinet Ministers and Mr Hawke and his Government. They are leaving for our children and their children the highest interest rates, the worst currency, an unemployment situation in disarray and a huge debt burden.

In the area of welfare, one of the saddest things that have happened recently has been the Government's inability to resolve a crisis over emergency relief. In the economic climate that I have described, it is not surprising that people's needs-for welfare payments by way of the unemployment benefit and for the supporting parent's benefit-have increased, but among these people there is a continuing urgent need for emergency cash relief. This concerns people who have been hit by unexpected events, who have had sickness, who have a debt burden, who cannot manage, and most of them on welfare. We have seen an argument between a Cabinet Minister in Canberra and a Cabinet Minister in Macquarie Street, Sydney, about who should bear the burden of emergency care, who should pay the money. We have seen the Labor Government in New South Wales, to up the ante in the argument, withdraw $2 1/2m or more of emergency care. The money is not there. So while Mr Walker and Senator Grimes battle out who is responsible for having withdrawn this money we find that the needy for whom the money was meant are now not able to receive it.

The week before last, when the Senate was not sitting, I travelled first to the suburb of Miller in Green Valley and later to the Mount Druitt town centre, to the big Mount Druitt shopping town. On each occasion I visited the Sydney City Mission, one of the great welfare agencies of New South Wales. The purpose of those visits was to talk to that agency about the experience it was having in terms of calls for emergency relief and its capacity or incapacity to meet those calls. The level of poverty in western Sydney is real. The cutting edge is very sharp and that withdrawal of emergency relief money has been a tragedy.

When I visited the Sydney City Mission in Mount Druitt a number of people waiting for assistance agreed to talk to me. They were absolutely aghast at the fact that they were suffering partly because two Labor governments could not resolve an argument about who was going to pay the money and because one of the Labor governments, the Wran Labor Government in New South Wales, had withdrawn money, leaving the needy without. Following that visit, I noticed that Mrs Merle Hurcomb, director of the Sydney City Mission, issued a challenge. I refer to the Daily Mirror newspaper of 7 November which reports that Mrs Hurcomb issued a challenge to Mr Frank Walker, the New South Wales Minister for Youth and Community Services, and to our colleague in the Senate, Don Grimes, the Minister for Community Services, to go out to Mount Druitt, join her at the Sydney City Mission, and listen for themselves to the level of unmet need which they have brought about and be asked what they intend to do about it.

Mr Walker says that it is all the Federal Government's fault. To Senator Grimes's credit he has not entered into the argument at that kind of puerile level. What we should do is take the two Ministers, lock them in a room and not let them come out until they have some resolution to this silly argument. In the meantime there are families that cannot feed their children. There are people who are about to face eviction. There are people who will have their electricity cut off. There are people who have gone for emergency cash relief to be told that none is there because the Labor Party governments cannot get their act together.

I wish to raise one other matter in relation to welfare and that relates to the Government's proposed tax package. Following that I want to say a few words about affirmative action and the status of women. The new tax package proposes that fringe benefits should be taxed. The Government has announced that exemptions will be made only for religious bodies. It appears that the Government is unaware that many of the great welfare bodies in this country are not religious bodies. For example, I mentioned a moment ago the Sydney City Mission. It does not consider itself to be a religious body; it is a welfare body. Perhaps the Government is unaware that some of the people who will be judged to be receiving fringe benefits are doing nothing of the kind. Let us consider the case of a home established to take half a dozen handicapped children and consider the fact that that home has a live-in person who is there to help care for those handicapped people to enable them to live in a semi-independent way. Under the legislation, as has been announced, it is the understanding of the welfare bodies that that accommodation will be taxable in the hands of the welfare agency as if it were a fringe benefit or a perk. What kind of perk is that? The people who are doing a service to the community-

Senator Watson —They will be penalised.

Senator PETER BAUME —Yes, they will be penalised. The welfare agencies will be penalised. If they are penalised and their funds are diminished the people who will be penalised are their clients. We can argue with Senator Walsh about the rightness or wrongness of the fringe benefits tax; but I put to Senator Walsh, as a matter of compassion, that if the great welfare agencies can demonstrate to him that this tax will fall inappropriately on their clients, on their capacity to do their job, the Government should be big enough to acknowledge that it has to allow exemption for the great welfare agencies.

Let us consider the case of a spastic centre which operates mini-buses, some of which the drivers take home. The drivers start on a run the next morning and pick up people progressively bringing them to the centre. They take the bus home because that is part of their job; it is where the pick-up route starts. That will now be considered as a fringe benefit and the welfare bodies will be taxed. It is an anomaly in what the Government has proposed. While we do not accept the basic premise on which the Government works, I put it to the Minister that this anomaly is worth responding to with generosity and in a decent way because it is only the poor and the disadvantaged who will suffer.

In the time available to me it is not possible to discuss the other matter which I wished to raise. I merely say that it is a very sad time for Australia. We do not know where our economy is heading. We do not know whether this Government has the capacity or the will to give the national leadership that will restore confidence in our currency. We certainly hope so. For our part we are intent on doing anything we can to assist this Government to strengthen the Australian dollar and the Australian economy, and to try to provide a better climate than we have at present. But with record interest rates, with unemployment as high as it is, with the currency in disarray, it is very hard to have confidence in the future. The Budget which this Government has brought down does little to inspire on this side of the chamber any hope that things are improving.