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Monday, 30 August 1993
Page: 495

Senator SHORT (4.23 p.m.) —I move:

  That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The irreparable damage caused to all Australians, and to the integrity of our democratic parliamentary process, by the Keating Government's deceitful litany of broken promises and its 1993 Budget of betrayal.

Those are strong words: irreparable damage to all Australians; irreparable damage to the integrity of our democratic parliamentary process; the Keating government's deceitful litany of broken promises; the Keating government's budget of betrayal. The coalition makes no apology for the strength of this motion; we make no apology for calling it urgent because the broken promises of this government are a deceitful litany. The betrayal of all Australians in the budget is a matter of the gravest concern. No government should govern on a program of broken promises, betrayal or deceit, yet that is precisely what this government has done and precisely what it continues to do.

  This government won the 13 March election on the back of a huge range of promises. Many of these promises have since been wantonly and deliberately broken. Indeed, it is now crystal clear—it was clear to many of us before the election—that the government never had any intention of keeping these promises. They were the wild, irresponsible promises of a desperate government and a desperate Prime Minister (Mr Keating) who was prepared to stoop to any depths to retain power so that he could enjoy the perks of office and could thumb his nose at the rest of Australia with grotesque demands such as ordering a $24,000 foreign made Thai teak table for the Lodge, insulting Australian craftsmen and designers and Australians generally.

  Since the election the government has shed itself of its promises as if they were, to quote Niki Savva of the Melbourne Herald-Sun, `disposable nappies'. That was before the recent budget. That budget has upped the litany of broken promises stakes still further. Indeed, the list of promises—broken, bent, twisted or rewritten—comes close to rivalling the Yellow Pages for numbers of entries.

  Let me outline first some of the Keating government's pre-election promises and their fate. The Prime Minister promised—it was in the policy document released at his election campaign launch—that all age pensioners would be removed from the tax system by 1995. Five days after the election, the Treasurer (Mr Dawkins) said that it was as a result of a printing mistake that this promise had been made and that he had no plans at all to honour it.

  The government said that it would extend Medicare by buying 10,000 private hospital beds. Instead, the government has now said it will spend the money in other ways. Far from extending Medicare, the government has commenced dismantling it. The first major step is its decision to remove optometry testing from Medicare coverage.

  The government promised to introduce free dental treatment for low income earners from 1 July 1993. The introduction has now been deferred for 12 months. One would not want to bet one's shirt on that start date being honoured either.

  The government promised a $30 a week home child-care allowance to women to replace the dependent spouse rebate. The clear indication at the time was that that would be introduced this financial year. Only now are we told that the start date will not be before part way through the next financial year; that is, 1994-95. A similar situation applies with the promise to provide a cash rebate of up to $30 a week on child-care fees for all women who work, train or study, or are looking for work. It is almost certain, too, that that promise will be doubly broken through its being means tested.

  The government promised to match, dollar for dollar, the amount raised by charities. In a mean, churlish, petty and underhand decision the government broke this promise by matching only the money spent by charities.

  These examples are but the tip of the iceberg of broken promises. Time does not permit me to enlarge on all the remainder, but the daddy of them all is the Prime Minister's promises on personal income tax cuts. In his One Nation statement in February 1992, the Prime Minister promised to cut personal income tax by around $8 1/2 billion in two stages—the first, and about one-third of that $8.5 billion, on 1 July 1994 and the second, and by far the larger, on 1 January 1996.

  In his, I would describe it as infamous, interview on the ABC's Lateline program in November 1992, just as the election cycle was really hotting up, the Prime Minister said:

What I'm promising is not to put up tax.

In other words, Mr Keating implied quite unequivocally that the personal tax cuts promised in One Nation would not be paid for by any increase in other taxes. So intent was the Prime Minister on deceiving the electorate before the election that he actually legislated the two-stage tax cuts—for 1 July and 1 January 1996—in late 1992. At the Prime Minister's luncheon appearance at the National Press Club just two days before the 13 March election, a questioner had the temerity to ask him whether there was any prospect of these tax cut promises not being honoured. The Prime Minister flew at the impudent journalist and, with savage sarcasm, said:

Let me tell you something, I thought you might have known—they've been legislated. They are not promises, they are law—L.A.W., law.

It has only now been revealed—in late July, by none other than the Prime Minister and Mr Dawkins themselves in an admission of what can be called nothing less than perfidy—that just five days after the election they discussed ways in which they could best break the tax cut promise with the least political damage. Indeed, the Treasurer admitted in the House of Representatives the very day after the recent budget that Labor knew before the election that it could not deliver on its election promises to introduce tax cuts, not raise other taxes and not increase the overall burden of taxation.

  Despite all that, as late as 4 July this year on the Sunday program the Treasurer said that the tax cuts were `set in concrete'. On 22 July, just 18 days later, the Prime Minister announced that the legislated—l-a-w, law—personal tax cuts would—surprise, surprise—be relegislated. The unequivocal promise had been broken and, instead, the bulk of the tax cuts would be deferred from 1 January 1996 to a later date, `probably 1998'. The Treasurer confirmed that in his budget speech. We all know what `probably 1998' means. It means never. Those tax cuts were never going to be delivered. The government knew they were never going to be delivered and yet it allowed the Australian people to go to the election on the basis of a promise that they would be delivered.

  The budget has revealed another act of perfidy by the government, another smashed promise, another lie. The government told the electorate before the election that it would not increase taxes. No less a person than the Prime Minister himself said so. He said, `What I'm promising is not to put up tax'. What is the reality? The reality is a savage increase in taxes across the board. Sales tax is going up by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. The tax on wine is going up by 55 per cent. The tax on petrol is going up by up to 10c a litre—or at least it was until today; I will come back to that later. There will be a huge and retrospective increase in the tax on accumulated annual and long service leave and increases in a whole raft of other taxes and charges. Incredibly—indeed, criminally—low income earners receive virtually no compensation for these savage tax hikes that will, on the government's own figures, treble the consumer price index increase in the next year. There is a sop to the low income earners—a lousy, measly, insulting $1.92 a week tax rebate for persons earning less than $23,000 per year.

  Of course the government had to put up taxes. The Treasurer had said that the basic commitment of the government in terms of the election was to get the budget deficit down to one per cent of GDP by 1996-97. He said, though, that that was all going to happen quite easily—the budget was going to whirr back into balance; no doubt about that. Anyone with half a brain and half an understanding of the economic process and the finances of government would have known and did know that that was simply not true. As a result, since the election huge tax increases have been built into our fiscal system.

  On the government's figures, in the next three years of 1994, 1995 and 1996, the real increase in the total tax take in Australia—by real, I mean after we account for inflation—will be 8.1 per cent in the first year, 6 per cent in the second year and 5 per cent in the third year. The government was not prepared to give those figures in the budget. It required action by the Liberal and National parties in the Senate the week before last to force those figures out of the government. No wonder it sat on them, because they show massive hikes in the real tax take over the next few years and a progressive increase in the proportion of tax to our total national income.

  In absolute terms, the amount of tax to be collected, on the government's own figures—if we believe these figures—between the year just concluded, when the tax take was $92.4 billion, and the following four years, concluding with 1996-97, will rise progressively each year to $121.4 billion. They are staggering tax increases whichever way we wish to look at them, yet the government went to the election promising that there would be no tax increases. No wonder there has been such an enormous outcry over the budget from all sections of the community, particularly from lower income earners, Labor's own so-called natural constituency—the so-called true believers.

  This budget hits the low income earners very hard. The gap between rich and poor will inevitably increase still further. That gap has already widened dangerously over Labor's decade in office. This is a mean budget; it is a cruel budget; it is a budget that creates not one more job; it is a budget that is divisive—it divides Australian from Australian—and it is a denial of the very Australian concept of a fair go. It is a budget prepared by a government totally lacking in compassion, totally without vision and, as Dr Hewson said yesterday, led by a man totally without honour.

  At his first press conference after becoming Prime Minister, you will recall, Mr Acting Deputy President, Mr Keating promised to deal honestly with people. All I can say is that his performance since then has been a total denial of those fine words. We cannot see that exemplified any better than in the budget and in the litany of broken promises that have occurred since the election.

  As the coalition's motion says, this regressive budget of betrayal and deceit and this government of broken promises has not only caused irreparable damage to all Australians but it has also done irreparable damage to the integrity of our democratic parliamentary process. There is a feeling of very deep disillusionment within the electorate about the political process. That is because, if people cannot believe what their political leaders say and if they cannot rely on their word or their promises, the whole of our parliamentary system of democracy is put at great risk.

  The New South Wales Labor Council leader, Michael Easson, said last week that this budget is `an act of bastardry'. He was dead right. On the day following the budget, when the Prime Minister was out trying to sell the budget, he went on the John Laws program. He was asked about the fairness of the budget. It is incredible that he said to a caller—it might have been to Laws himself:

By which measure would you say this (Budget) is not something which is Labor to the bootstraps?

There is nothing that is Labor to the bootstraps about this budget; there is nothing that is fair in this budget; there is nothing that is equitable in this budget. The budget does precisely nothing to help the unemployed. As I said, it does not do anything to create one job at a time when we have one million Australians unemployed.

  The state secretary of the Australian Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, Michael Phillips, put it very accurately on behalf of many traditional Labor voters when he said:

I have been disillusioned with Labor over a number of months now and I have no faith in them as representatives of the working men and women.

Senator Newman —Not alone, either.

Senator SHORT —As my friend Senator Newman says, he is by no means alone in that regard. The comments of Michael Easson further reflect that. He said:

There is a sense that the Government has lost the plot . . . it is not governing with proper thought given to the impact of its measures on its traditional constituency.

Indeed, Michael Easson has taken the extraordinary position of writing to the Australian Democrats and Senator Harradine, urging them to knock back what he has called regressive features of the budget that are an absolute joke.

  Indeed, Michael Easson went much further than that. I will quote a little from a very important radio interview he gave on the AM program last Thursday:

. . . when you see the Federal Budget introducing measures like retrospective taxes on untaken long service leave and annual leave it stinks . . . for the workers to lose these benefits.

It is an act of bastardry on the part of the Government to impose without any consultation and without a thought being given to the social consequences of the tax on untaken long service leave and annual leave.

The taxes on unleaded petrol and all the other tax surcharges that will drive inflation up without compensation for low income earners.

He concluded that statement by saying:

. . . those three issues we went into the last election on the GST, Medicare, Industrial Relations, what do we see now?

We see the GST matched by the indirect tax impost, that affect low income earners, medicare impugned by the elimination of services with regard to optometry and we also see industrial relations reforms promoted that leave the union movement bewildered.

So the whole community is disgusted and dismayed with this budget, and there is every reason to understand why that is the case.

  We have seen from media reports today—and that is again typical of this government's cynical treatment of the parliament—that the government intends to make changes to the budget in an effort to placate its union base and to seduce the Democrats and the Greens into supporting the budget. These changes, whatever they might be—there are some reports of them—will simply add further confusion about, and an erosion of confidence in, this government. It will further erode any sense of integrity and it will further destroy the government's moral authority if, indeed, it has any left.

  The government has suffered a huge loss of moral authority. The overwhelming majority of the electorate—more than 90 per cent—believes that the government lied its way back into office. It is right, and that is why we are moving this motion today. I ask the Senate for its support. (Time expired)