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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 3529


Senator ABETZ —My question is directed to Senator Newman. Is the minister aware that those opposite assert that they have a monopoly on compassion and fairness, which is ironic given that the policies announced by the government in the budget are much fairer to lower income Australians than those of the previous Labor government? Can the minister tell the Senate which government reforms bring greater equality to Australians and whether there are any barriers to these reforms being implemented?


Senator NEWMAN —Senator Abetz, you do put your finger on the problem with the future of Australia. We have an opposition, which used to be the government, which was the government for the yuppies and the top end of town. What we now have is an opposition that is for the well-to-do in Australia and with a total lack of regard for the battlers. Why have they got a total lack of regard for the battlers? I think Mike Steketee put it pretty accurately after the last election when he pointed out that Labor's vote dropped dramatically among households with incomes less than $20,000 while it did not fall much at all among the households with incomes of $50,000 to $60,000. That is why the battlers have abandoned you—and there was a very good cause for it. Why do you think the battlers found very great value in the proposals that we made at the election for family tax initiatives, for health rebates, et cetera? I could go on and on.

What happens when the government brings down its budget? We hear day after day in here about how the opposition does not like this measure, is going to block that measure, is going to shuffle it off to a committee here and delay it. We have seen that happening with the superannuation charge on high income earners from Senator Sherry. We are seeing the same sort of opposition from the Labor Party over superannuation being included in the assets test for those who are over 55. Of course, the situation is that that is something which the Labor Party had, but they changed their minds and in 1993 left the door wide open for the rorters and those financial planners who wanted to encourage people on high incomes to be able to retire earlier and attract entitlements from the social security system.

The respected financial adviser Daryl Dixon said only last Sunday about the current system that the losers have been the ordinary taxpayers subsidising welfare payments to people with substantial assets. That is what we have attempted to deal with in this budget. We have tried to make a complex social security system simpler and easier to understand, but we have tried to deal with the unfairnesses in the system whereby the battlers have been paying for people who could and should be expected, first of all, to draw on their own resources—that is, people who are unemployed and have substantial resources, people who have superannuation and are facing early retirement who should be providing income from those rollover funds, and the elderly who have received compensation payments at law late in life. We are expecting them to make better provision for themselves.

But, equally, in the area of Dr Wooldridge's portfolio of health, we expect those who are well-to-do to put more into their own health care protection than they were under Labor. Why? Because the previous government was dead set on supporting the big end of town. The then Prime Minister, Mr Keating, did not have health insurance, nor did some of his rich mates. Poor former Senator Graham Richardson had great trouble trying to do something fair on health care. Recently, he wrote in the Bulletin:

Now the Liberal Party is putting forward the same idea—

that is, the same idea he put forward—

even the thought that the Liberals are prepared to make the rich pay more when the Labor Party would not is enough to scare the hell out of me.

One of the best ways—(Time expired)


Senator ABETZ —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you have provided us with an impressive list of government reforms that are bringing greater equality to Australian people. Can you extend that list any further than you have already?


Senator NEWMAN —I am glad you asked, Senator. I really could help you there. One of the best things that we could do to make the average family better off is to bring their mortgage payments down. Already, through low interest rates, since the coalition government came to power, monthly repayments on an average loan have dropped $88 a month. Of course, interest rates could go even lower if the opposition passes our budget.


Senator Sherry —Will they?


Senator NEWMAN —Of course they could, and Kim Beazley knows it too. He is denying it now but when he was more honest he said:

. . . there are a multiplicity of influences on any particular level of interest rates at any point of time. One of the factors involved is fiscal policy; there is no question about that at all.

What else would the low interest rates do? They would help small business. What would that do? It would provide more jobs for Australians. Surely the greatest inequity in this nation is the disgraceful long-term unemployment rate which you handed over to an incoming government. It is a disgrace, and only small businesses' recovery will do something about that. (Time expired)