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Monday, 24 May 1993
Page: 1093

Senator REID (4.38 p.m.) —In speaking to this matter of public importance—namely, the Government's obvious intention to abandon its election promises in order to reduce the massive Budget deficit—I should like to welcome Senator Crowley to the chamber. We needed her here sooner. It was put to Senator Sherry that he should let us know which promises will be kept and which will not. He said that, as a mere parliamentary secretary, he was not able to do this, as much as he might have liked to. He said, `I can't give any ironclad commitments'. I thought it was a shame that, with 10 Ministers in this chamber, not one of them could be here to let us know the answers to these questions. As I said, it was a pity that Senator Crowley could not be here earlier to take part in the debate.

  I was going to say that perhaps Senator Sherry has been busy, but I am not sure what he has been doing. He referred to the change of economic circumstances which has made it impossible for the Government to keep the promises that it made during the election campaign. He referred to contingencies which could not have been predicted.

  Senator Sherry then went on to talk about wool, and the fact that the price of wool had dropped. I knew that before 13 March. I would have thought most of my colleagues knew before 13 March that the price of wool had dropped dramatically over the past three years, and that woolgrowers were in very great difficulty. He referred to the drought. Well, I knew before 13 March that there was serious drought, as you must know, Mr Acting Deputy President, in Queensland and other places. That was presented as an economic circumstance that the Government could not have foreseen or predicted.

  Senator Sherry also talked about the collapse of the Soviet Union. We found out more and more about how bad it was, but I think most of us knew that the Soviet Union had collapsed before 13 March. He really could not give any good reason for the Labor Party, having in March of this year made significant promises to this electorate, now walking away from them. If there are good reasons for its having done what it has done, we did not hear about them today from those who are here seeking to justify the Government's behaviour towards the electorate.

  I asked a question in Question Time today as to whether or not the relevant Minister would produce the document, prepared by the Department of Finance, listing 138 Labor Party promises, and telling us which of them we could or could not expect to be kept. The Minister gave a convoluted answer and indicated he did not know of the existence of the document. Then he went on to talk about the preparation of a budget, and the fact that things are reviewed in a budget context. Of course, they are reviewed in a budget context in most years, but what I am talking about is not the review of things in a budget context in 1993. I am talking about the promises that were actually made to the electorate in February and March of this year. He brushed that off as though we were asking something that was unreasonable.

  Senator Sherry referred to our daring to ask questions about promises at a time when the Government is preparing the Budget. He again brushed it off and said something about our wallowing around in rumour mongering. I am talking about promises that were made to the electorate, some of which have already been abandoned. We would like to know how many more of the promises in the document Senator Cooney has just referred to will be abandoned. This is not idle speculation in the Budget context. Senator Cooney referred to the accord. I refer briefly to the statement of May this year:

The ACTU executive today deferred delivery of the $8 pay rise from the latest wages accord, which was due to flow to workers from 1 July.

Perhaps Senator Cooney ought to check up. I am sure he gets lots of paper in his office; perhaps there are a few bits he has not yet had a chance to study.

  Senator Cooney went on to suggest that the Opposition was setting up straw men or straw women or straw people. I am not talking about straw people. I am talking about real people who have been affected already by the broken promises of the Labor Party. I am talking about pensioners, people on low incomes and families where there is one income only in the household. I am talking about different issues from the tax cuts. I do not know if I am worthy of the accolade that Senator Cooney sought to bestow on me, but I am talking about real people and the things that affect them, not just tax cuts.

  Senator Sherry also seemed to think we could not expect some of these things to come into effect from day one as they have to be costed. Is he seriously suggesting to us that the Labor Party goes to an election rattling off every promises it can think of that will attract an interest group to vote for it in a few days time, and then subsequently says, `Well we can't actually do it. We have to cost it. We have to plan it. We have to talk to the States'? I think most reasonable people would think that these things would be done before a promise is made.

  Another thing occurred to me. On Budget night we hear about increases of taxes that `will take place from tonight', but it might be six months before they are legislated for. If taxes can be implemented in that fashion—that is, from when the announcement is made—why can promises not operate from the day that they are made? We are entitled to know the answers to some of these things as double standards definitely apply here. I am talking about real people. I turn to the Labor's policy document for older Australians—perhaps this is the document that Senator Cooney has—which states:

"Labor's commitment to removing all age pensioners from the tax-free system by 1995 will benefit pensioners paid at the part rate as well as providing some assistance to retirees with incomes beyond the pension cut out point.

That is one of the things we are talking about today that has been abandoned.

  Mr Dawkins seems to have been trying to avoid the issue. He initially suggested that it was an old promise, nothing really new and nothing that needed to be taken into account in 1993. He is right to an extent because the promise was first made by the former Treasurer, Mr Keating, in 1989 and in four years it has not happened. It was reaffirmed by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) in the policy statement at the Bankstown Town Hall during the 1993 election campaign. However, Mr Dawkins seems to have missed that bit. When asked about it, he said:

"Well, we will do what we have done, you know, all the way through. We will look at the Budget situation and we will calmly, sensibly address the situation.

He was talking in that vein five days after the election. When asked about the commitment, Mr Dawkins went on:

"Look, that's something which, of course, the Government would want to review. We haven't given any definite undertakings about that and, basically, I think it was a promise which was . . .—

and he paused—

or it was an undertaking given at a much earlier stage—

yes, five days before—

"It is certainly not an undertaking we have renewed—

that was not true—

and I certainly don't feel under any obligation to follow through with it," he said.

So much for the pensioners. I am talking about the real people: the pensioners and in particular those—of whom there are a number in my electorate—who are part pension, part Commonwealth superannuants. If the Government does not understand that these pensioners are not getting adjustments due to the CPI figure, with inflation low but with costs still rising, perhaps it can abandon a promise like this. We only have to ask how they are managing at the present time and they will tell us.

  I am not just making this up from newspapers; Senator Cooney seems to think this is all we are referring to. I read from a document, printed and authorised by Simon Crean of 6 Atherton Road, Oakleigh 3166, which states:

Remove all age and service pensioners from Tax System by 1995.

This document went out to his electorate. It states a number of other things, including:

Reduce waiting lists by paying for 10,000 beds in private hospitals for public patients.

Provide dental care for health card holders including low income non pension retirees.

That is the next matter I wish to refer to. The ALP 1993 health policy document states:

Federal Labor will implement a Commonwealth Dental Health Program to improve access to emergency and basic dental care for low-income earners at a cost of $278m over four years in its first four years and $100m in a full year.

Senator Richardson has been running away from that ever since. He did not seem to know exactly when it would start; he now says it will start some time—1 July next year.

  What about these people? I certainly know of people who cannot get dental care at present. Constituents have come to my office in desperate need of dental care. They are unable to get an appointment for 18 months. As one constituent said to me, `By the time I get an appointment, they'll just take this tooth out. It won't be worth repairing'. This has all happened before.

  I now turn to the introduction of home child-care allowance. We have heard what has happened to that. It applies to families with one income and one parent at home looking after the children. Why could that allowance not start on 1 July this year? At the launch of the policy speech, the Prime Minister said:

I recognise and appreciate the important role played by women who choose to stay at home while their children are growing up. We propose to introduce a new cash payment of $60 each fortnight to be called the Home Child Care Allowance.

Other things seem to happen; why not that? I am talking about the single income families, the pensioners, the low income earners, the improvement of Medicare through use of private beds. I do not have time today to tell honourable senators about the lack of private beds in my electorate, but I will before the end of the week. On the question of the failure to match the Christmas appeals funds, on the Sunday program of 6 December the Prime Minister said:

So let me say to you, Laurie, that for every dollar that the voluntary agencies like St Vincent de Paul, the Smith Family, the Salvation Army collect for material assistance, the Commonwealth will match for the Christmas Appeals.

We know precisely what happened. These are matters of importance to people in this country.

  When it comes to broken promises, though, I wish in conclusion to refer to one matter of importance in my electorate: the York Park development, the new Taj Mahal for the department of foreign affairs costing $187 million. We said that it should not go ahead because we recognise that the country is in financial difficulties. But our view was presented in the electorate by the Labor candidates as a massive attack on jobs in the ACT. It was said from an early stage that this project would provide 1,500 ACT jobs and that those jobs would be in jeopardy unless Labor was returned to office. At one stage one of the candidates even suggested that it was 1,700 jobs.

  Less than two weeks after the election it was 750 jobs on the York Park site. Responsibility for a number of the projects on the site had gone to firms in Sydney and Adelaide. It was said that Australian Construction Services did not have the resources to handle the project. It was suggested subsequently that in fact there would be about 300 jobs on the site. During the campaign one of the Labor candidates said:

People must be made aware that the Liberal's snow job on job creation in the ACT is just that—it is the cruel and empty rhetoric of a party that would choose to fabricate figures rather than tell people the truth.

I say to that person: what about a bit of truth about the York Park site and the number of jobs there? What was he doing talking about 1,500 jobs or 1,700 jobs on the York Park site?

  The $187 million that will be spent to develop that site could have been a private sector investment. The Government will spend $187 million on this project. What did it give the farmers last week—$50 million in drought relief for farmers struck down by low wool prices and drought. But there is $187 million to go ahead with a building that need not be built right now.

  My attack on that development is because of the Budget deficit. I think also of the farmers of this country. Only $50 million can be found for drought relief, but $187 million can be found for this new building. It was clearly an election gimmick to pretend that there would be 1,500 jobs. (Time expired)