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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1562

Senator ROBERT RAY (Minister for Defence) (5.55 p.m.) —I will not detain the chamber for long, but I was given the honour of representing Mr Beazley in this chamber after the last election, so I should at least put a government view. The late Billy Hughes once said the following: `See a move, block it; see a sore, rub it'. Senator Bell has followed his advice today.

  This is one of the greatest `I told you so' motions that I have seen moved in this chamber. It is disappointing in one sense. While it might be a bit of theatre to poke fun at the Liberal Party over its dilemma of a maverick member going off in one direction without the benefit of counselling from his leadership, on the other hand the Democrats get only two opportunities in the spring session to move a general business matter. I think the sort of psychic salary that Senator Bell has achieved out of this issue today is not in proportion to the value he could have achieved on other issues, although I do concede that he has used this issue in a somewhat disguised way to reopen the HECS debate generally.

  The issue came up primarily as a result of an article in the Australian by Fiona Carruthers reporting the views of a Mr Pyne, the member for Sturt in South Australia. Mr Pyne had a burst of opportunistic excess in discussing these issues somewhere and, not knowing the history of HECS and where the Democrats stood on it, he decided to put the blowtorch to the Democrats. The fact is that he has misunderstood where the Democrats have stood on HECS from start to finish: they have opposed it. They have been consistent, and they have been wrong from start to finish. The same tired old arguments are being trotted out here today.

  If HECS had to be repaid yearly irrespective of income, there would be a lot of merit to what Senator Bell has said. He always says that academic salaries and things are not going up as fast as expected. But, if they do not reach the cut-in point, they do not pay it. Whilst we have a responsibility for people doing second degrees and people who unfortunately fail and have to repeat part of their course, we have an equal responsibility for those in the community who are currently deprived of getting a tertiary education. This government's emphasis—I think the opposition is coming from a different path—has been to try to open up as many positions as possible for people to attend tertiary institutions.

  But for those who have a money tree in their backyards like the Democrats, this does not present a problem—print more money, allocate more money but never give the government the means of raising the revenue, by cutting budgets to ribbons. That is not a practical approach but it is one that a minority party can sustain because it never has to balance its wish list with the real demands of governments and the allocation of resources.

  I found Mr Pyne's statement interesting because Senator Bell has probably properly identified what is developing in the Liberal Party—a total policy hiatus. Following the last election, in which the Liberals thought they were going to the electorate with a very positive and firm policy, they woke up on Sunday 14 March to a terrible shock.

Senator Campbell —I wish I had not woken up on that morning.

Senator ROBERT RAY —That is something we share; I wish that Senator Campbell had not woken up, either. But I do have some sympathy, because I know what defeat is like. Those opposite made a mistake to become embittered and they made a mistake initially to blame the electorate for their loss. When they looked at themselves, they made another basic decision. How could they have lost five elections in a row? If they had gone to the electorate with a positive platform, how dare the people not support them?

  This naturally put pressure on the leadership of the Liberal Party and Dr John Hewson, in particular. Their answer was to dump all policy. I do not think Dr Hewson had any other strategic choice but to dump all policy. If he had indicated that he was going to hang on to it, his colleagues, especially some of the less altruistic ones sitting both in this chamber and in the other one, would have seen him removed fairly rapidly. Therefore, we are going to have a policy hiatus out of the Liberals for some time.

  It is not to be recommended that a defeated opposition should try to produce an alternative policy a few weeks or even a few months after an election. It does require reflection; it does require that opposition to be working hard to provide an alternative policy. Certainly we can say the opposition has adopted that policy because I have seen no evidence to the contrary. What Mr Pyne was trying to do, I believe, was garner a few votes.

Senator Bell —Get rid of his `L' plates.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I do not know about that; that may be unkind. He just thought, `There's not much policy on this. I will make an opportunist statement. I'll embarrass the Democrats'. Unfortunately, he did come to it just a little green, in political terms. If he had seen the history of the Democrats' stance on this he would probably have come to realise, as I have, that it is flawed, that it is wrong and that it has been consistent. His statements when measured against that record tend to be enormously hypocritical.

  The one thing the opposition has found is a new political Camelot. What this says, in very quick summary, is, `Everyone should get tax cuts; there should be no alternative revenue measures to make up any shortfall therein; deficit reduction is a good thing but, sorry, we don't want to contribute in any way to it; and, finally, any gap can be bridged by a reduction in a bloated government expenditure and bureaucracy'. Honourable senators will note of course that those opposite never identify—now, today, and in the last few months—where they believe those cuts should occur because that can be political poison as well.

Senator Campbell —Why should we?

Senator ROBERT RAY —`Why should we?', says Senator Campbell. So that the opposition can have a rational, consistent approach and not just an oppositional approach that replicates what Mr Fischer advocated—constructive trench warfare in this chamber. If those opposite want to be a credible political force they will not get away with saying, `We always support tax cuts but we never support any consequential revenue measures'. They will never get away with the fact that they are supporters of a deficit reduction when they fail to identify any areas of expenditure cuts.

  It is amazing in the macro sense that those in the Liberal Party recommend expenditure cuts but the first time action is taken, as I have had to do, to close a small military base or something else, they are all in there objecting saying, `You can't do that'. The micro approach triumphs time and time again.

  In retrospect, we made a rather foolish promise that, if we lost government and had to go onto the opposition benches, in spite of our rigorous opposition to the alternative fiscal and tax regime that the coalition would impose, we would not block those measures in the Senate. We have been paid back in kind by the opposition trying to block everything that moves, leaving a potential extra deficit this year of $500 million and $1.7 billion in the second out year. That is predicated, of course, on the first proposition of wholesale sales tax increases going through. You can add enormously to that into the future.

  Today Senator Bell has indicated a certain narrow level of hypocrisy in Liberal Party education policy. He could have gone on to say that this simply reflects the whole of the coalition at the moment where we see no policy, no rationality, and fiscal and revenue vandalism at its worst. The theory of those opposite is, `Let's deprive the government of as much revenue as possible. Let's force them into unpopular expenditure cuts'. Those in the opposition do not have to identify any of them; since the election they have not identified where they would cut expenditure and Senator Campbell says, `Why should we?'.

Senator Campbell —It is no use three years out; why should we?

Senator ROBERT RAY —I am not inviting Senator Campbell to identify where he would cut if the coalition were in government. I am inviting him to suggest, if he believes this government should be cutting, where he wants to cut.

Senator Campbell —Start with Gareth's building.

Senator ROBERT RAY —He would start with Gareth's building when it is halfway built. That is a really constructive idea. There are a couple of other easy patsies around, why not nominate those? To make the sorts of deficit reductions that both sides probably think is sufficient, they cannot get past five per cent of the total with anything they bleat about today. Every one of those in opposition has forfeited the right to any respect on fiscal and tax matters. They have forfeited, as they always have—

Senator Panizza —You forfeited your right when you lied your way to government.

Senator ROBERT RAY —This is the explanation now. The Liberals lost the election because we lied our way into government! It was not the fact that they adopted a crypto-fascist industrial relations policy, was it? No! It was not the fact that they put an ideologue from the north shore in charge of the party. It was not that either. It was not because they adopted the GST policy; it was not because they tried to vandalise Medicare; and it was not because they had an $8 billion hole in their outlays area. None of those reasons. It was apparently because we fibbed to the electorate. Can Senator Beahan believe that?

  This cannot be the same exploitative party that in 1977 offered tax cuts, set up a 008 number and said, `Ring and find out how much you can save' and six months later said, `Sorry fellas, we have just won an election, buzz off'. This cannot be the same party that so misled the electorate in 1966 as to our geo-strategic circumstances and the threat from the north. Can this be the party that tried to manipulate the Petrov affair in 1954?

  There is no doubt that when it comes to manipulating and misleading the electorate those opposite were the old pros. They were the people who succeeded for years. I can always remember former Senator Chaney coming in here one day and saying to me and the rest of us here, `You're not like the Labor blokes of the old days. They were good, genuine blokes'. I said to him, `Yes, you used to love it. You used to love people who didn't understand opinion polls. You used to love people who couldn't run an advertising campaign. You used to love people who couldn't raise money, because you and your machine could roll straight over the top of them'.

  Welcome to the majors, ladies and gentlemen opposite. It is no longer the case that we are going to be rolled over the top of by smarmy Liberal Party campaigners, nor are we going to let those opposite get away with the fact that they are going to be obstructionist in this chamber, and try to oppose every bit of legislation that the government puts up because they have absolutely no consistency and no alternative.

  I say in summary that the government will not be voting for this particular motion because it is not factually correct when it `welcomes this expression of new-found support by the Liberal Party for Australia's tertiary students'. I have found no such thing yet in terms of a change in opposition policy. I think those opposite have said—I know Senator Teague will correct me—that the jury is out, and that they will consider it on its merits. Neither I nor those on my side can vote for a motion that is not strictly in accordance, not so much with the truth but with the reality as we see it. I know Senator Bell has enjoyed moving this motion, but he has broken the greatest political saying of all: vengeance is a dish best served cold. He has rushed this one a bit.