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Tuesday, 22 August 1972
Page: 515

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock (LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order! The Minister for Shipping and Transport will cease interjecting.

Mr WHITLAM - He usually is adrift, Mr Deputy Speaker. The planning in this Budget is limited to the broad assertion that the economy will grow at 5 per cent. But this was the same figure asserted in last year's Budget. Even as late as December the Treasurer maintained that a 4 per cent growth would be achieved. In fact it turned out to be an appalling 3 per cent. So much for the Government's grasp of the consequences of its economic policies. Although the inflation rate is basically unchanged from that of last year, the Treasurer has in reality ignored the problem altogether. He makes no reference to the inflationary consequences of the 3-day wrangle over the currency valuation last December - a display of Government incompetence and division which has done perhaps more than anything else to destroy confidence in this Government both at home and abroad. The Treasurer was an early advocate of a prices justification tribunal. There could never have been a more appropriate time to set it up. The Treasurer maintains his obsession with wages. He ignores altogether the problem of prices.

The Budget is built upon a totally inadequate and, I believe, totally mistaken concept of the relations between the national government and the citizens of Australia. I make 2 fundamental propositions: This Budget narrows the role of the national government and it narrows the real meaning of being an Australian citizen in 1972. The Treasurer said that his standard of reference was what he called the typical family man. He had nothing to say, one notes, about the typical family woman. But how narrow and constricting is the Treasurer's concept. The Australian citizen is not merely a wage-earner who pays income tax to the Federal Government. He is not just a taxpayer. He is a citizen who must buy land, build a house or rent one, raise a family, keep them and himself in health, travel to work, pay State charges, pay municipal charges, pay insurance charges. If the community, if governments by doing nothing or by deliberate action raise the cost of the other charges he must bear, then he is being taxed as surely and deliberately as he would be if the income tax were increased. Alternatively, if government action or investment can save the individual citizen money, it is as effective a means of increasing his standard of living and his freedom of choice as a reduction of taxes or an increase in wages would be.

And my other proposition is this: Any function of our society will grow in strength, quality and equality to the extent that the Commonwealth involves itself. But if Commonwealth involvement is limited just to providing cash, then there is no true national commitment at all to promoting the quality and equality of that community service. It is not enough for the national government to help in paying fees for doctors, for hospitals or for schools. That does nothing to reduce costs or to improve equality. The national government must involve itself in planning the service, and in the services themselves, not merely the costs.

These are the 2 great tests, and by these tests this Budget fails. The Treasurer has set himself the narrowest possible target - $2 or so to the so-called typical man. The Australian whose real needs and aims, his hopes for himself and his children, are to be met in this way in 1972 not only is not typical; he is non-existent. The typical Australian today is, I profoundly believe, a man or woman who wants to believe that he or she lives in a society which is committed to achieving justice and equity and opportunity for all, not just for himself and his immediate family but for all his fellow citizens, and who believes that he can and does contribute to achieving such a society.

This is my judgment of the typical Australian, and I am confident that my judgment is not misplaced. But the typical Australian cannot believe he is living in a society committed to justice and equal opportunity when he sees his national government content to have 100,000 and more of his fellow-citizens unemployed, when he sees one million of his fellow citizens living near or below the poverty line, when he sees the operation of one law for wage earners and another for price fixers, when he sees men of great wealth able to avoid, through tax dodges, paying millions of dollars, when he sees the Aboriginal community suffering from the world's highest infant mortality rate, when he sees millions of dollars spent on a handful of the wealthiest schools in Australia while most State and parish schools are struggling to meet basic standards, when he sees a health system which costs the richest man scarcely half as much as the average man has to pay. In modern Australia the typical Australian looks to his governments to redress these injustices, not least because he knows that governments themselves have done so much to create them. And in modern Australia the government he increasingly looks to for leadership and justice is the national government. From that national government he is looking for leadership. The Budget could provide an opportunity for leadership, for the setting of national goals. This most impermanent and unstable document this year provides nothing of the sort.

And if the typical Australian is to be our measure, then this Budget ignores completely the most typical characteristic of the vast majority of Australians. And that is that they live in cities - not just the State capitals, but cities and centres throughout our continent. I find it unbelievable that in 1972, in a nation which pretends to be advanced, the national Government can produce a national Budget which is silent on cities - silent on the basic problems of 85 per cent of its citizens and the places where they have to live. A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing of real or enduring importance to say to the nation at all.

Where was the voice of the Country Party when this Budget was being framed? While our great cities are becoming daily more costly and unworkable, the countryside is being depopulated. An intractable problem of rural unemployment has developed - the youth of the countryside are leaving both the farms and the towns in their thousands. The economic conditions of the day as well as the long term needs of the nation absolutely require that we should start this year on restructuring our capital cities and building up our provincial cities and building new cities. The longer we delay proper regional development, the longer we defer regional development schemes, the less chance -we have of preserving any semblance of community balance and community identity in our countryside. But the Country Party, mesmerised by the shadows of subsidies and ignoring the substance of regional development, allows another year to be lost; it allows another year of drift and disintegration.

One of the greatest inflationary forces built into the Australian economic system is the manner in which our great cities are growing. The increasing congestion of cities - their gross inefficiency as part of the transport system - adds yearly to all transport costs, not least farm costs. The number of miles per hour a road transport can travel in Sydney has been halved in a decade. The greatest single outlay the Treasurer's typical Australian ever makes in his lifetime is for land and housing. In every capital - now one has to include Canberra for the first time since its beginnings^ - the average price of land has trebled in the last 10 years. Yet the Liberals have refused to acknowledge that the national government must accept a share of responsibility for reducing the cost of the citizen's greatest single burden. This Budget continues the refusal to assist the States and local government to buy land, develop it and sell or lease it at cost.The nation's basic resource is its land; the Liberals still hold to the doctrinaire belief that developers alone have the inalienable right to alienate the people's land.

The Treasurer's typical Australian is a ratepayer. Increasingly, he and his family depend on local government to provide a whole new range of basic services in health, welfare, sport, culture and recreation. Yet this Budget once again - like every Liberal Budget for the past 25 years - ignores the role of local government and ignores the national government's direct responsibility for local government. This is where the debts are growing fastest and where taxes and charges are growing fastest. In the Sydney Water Board area, 53c in every dollar paid in rates goes on loan servicing. In the Prime Minister's own electorate of Lowe, householders are now receiving notices which tell them that their water rates will be on average 55 per cent higher this year. In North Sydney, the water rates have just been doubled.

And it cannot be argued that local government is not a national budgetary responsibility or that the third level of government in Australia is solely a State responsibility. The Australian national Government takes directly a greater share of the national revenue resources than is the case in any other federal system in the world; but the Australian national Government provides directly fewer government services than in any comparable federal system in the world. The latest figures the Treasurer has given me show that the percentage of total government revenue raised by Federal authorities is 78.6 in Australia, 62.9 in America, 51.5 in Canada and 49 in West Germany. The State share is 12 per cent in Australia, 20.2 per cent in America, 32.7 per cent in Canada and 32.1 per cent in West Germany. Local and semi-government authorities in Australia have had to resort increasingly to borrowings. Within a year their debts will exceed those of all the States combined. To discuss the national economy, the national revenue and expenditure simply in terms of the Commonwealth taxes and CommonwealthState finances is to ignore the very heart of the financial problem - and that problem is the proper and effective financing and functioning of the 3 levels of government in Australia. Yet the Budget is silent on every aspect of municipal problems. It makes no provision to give local and semi-government authorities adequate access to the nation's finances. As a result, every charge and cost will continue to increase, and every service will continue to decline. Every typical Australian, and every atypical one, will continue to pay more for less as a consequence of this Budget's neglect.

Every year the Commonwealth involvement in cities, schools and hospitals is deferred, standards decline and the backlog becomes ever more difficult and ever more costly to overcome. Take hospitals, a field in which this Government refuses to involve itself in any more than helping to meet part of the fees. The result of that sort of limited involvement is that a family man with a taxable income of $3,000 pays in New South Wales $1.24 a week for public ward cover, a man on $5,000 pays $1.06, while a man on $20,000 pays 5 lc. The richer a person is, the less he pays because the more his tax deductions are worth. But in the hospitals themselves lack of Commonwealth commitment is leading to alarming regional imbalances and inadequacies. For instance in Sydney the Planning Liaison Committee of the Metropolitan Hospitals has just reported that by 1980, even if all present proposals are fulfilled throughout the metropolitan area, the bed surplus in the inner Sydney region and the bed deficit in the western region will both have become much greater than at present. Any saving to the Commonwealth by inactivity now is storing up disaster for the future.

Even more important, there is the human cost and human waste arising from every year lost. Take pre-schools - in this Budget there is a paltry effort to redeem in 1972 the promise made by the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), for kindergartencumchildminding centres. Without disparaging their value, let me say that they are no substitute for proper preschool training. Yet the Commonwealth refuses to involve itself in this field. Because of its refusal a whole generation of Australian children is growing up without the enormous benefits that pre-school education brings. It is one of the great instruments for educational, social and cultural equality. Yet only in Canberra, where the Commonwealth cannot escape its responsibility, can every child enjoy at least 1 year's pre-school training at properly equipped, properly staffed centres. A nation's education system is a failure if students do not leave it with equality of opportunity in life. By that standard ours is an outstanding failure. It is idle to pretend that its inadequacies and inequalities can be solved just by the provision of more scholarships, as the Budget does. It requires a continuing Commonwealth commitment to government and nongovernment schools. In future Labor Budgets the education sector will be the area of greatest growth. The lack of any national perspective is again seen in this meagre and piecemeal approach to development. Nothing in this Budget will in any way retard Australia's growing loss of control over her major resources and major industries. Increasingly, the key sectors of the Australian economy are tied to the control of great international corporations. No Australian company alone can deal on the level of these corporations. No Australian State acting alone can deal with them. Only the national Government has the resources, status and stature to do so.

The greatest reservoir of private capital in Australia is the insurance companies. It is a bigger pool than possessed by the banks or any individual company in Australia. Just as the insurance companies opened up the American West, they can play their part in opening up the new resources in the new areas of Australia. The Commonwealth provides very valuable concessions to Australians by way of tax deductions for insurance. Very properly, Australians have been encouraged to invest in life assurance. Let us maximise the value of these deductions to Australia by co-operating with the insurance companies in the development of Australia.

The whole of this Budget is framed in the spirit of demoting national responsibility and preserving inequality. There are the immediate questions of unemployment side by side with inflation. There is the long term question of the strong, balanced development of the nation's human and natural resources. The slack in the economy gave a rare opportunity for making a basic attack on the nation's long term problems. The opportunity has been frittered away. It was intolerable that the Government should have deliberately created the sort of unemployment we are now enduring. Yet it might have reduced the mindless cruelty of its own decision last year if the chance had been seized this year to use the economic conditions to begin building a new future for Australia. It might have been poor consolation for the thousands of men and women thrown out of work, but in the long term it would have made some amends to the nation. But this Government has not even left the unemployed with the dignity of having served the nation's larger purposes by their unwarranted and enforced sacrifice.

The 1972 Budget required a thoroughgoing range of short term measures and long term structures. In this Budget there are only short term measures and the Treasurer scarcely hints at what he believes their economic impact will be. He has done nothing to ensure that the money will be spent by those who most need it, and where it will have the greatest immediate impact without building in inflation. This was the time to establish machinery for national planning and national cooperation. This was the year to begin concentrated efforts to move pensions towards Labor's objective of 25 per cent of the average weekly male earnings and to restore the value of repatriation benefits. This, if ever, was the time to raise unemployment benefits. A government which has produced unemployment has a moral duty to help its victims. This was the time to make an immediate grant of $100m to pensioners and unemployed and thereby give an immediate, once-and-for-all boost to the economy. We would know exactly what it would cost and could quantify fairly accurately its short term economic impact.

This was the time to begin a proper restructuring of the income tax to reduce the burden on the lower and middle incomes. This was the time to close the tax avoidance loopholes which are costing the revenue not less than $100m a year, and one single case of which, on the Treasurer's own admission, cost $30m last financial year. This was the time to reduce sales tax, particularly on a whole range of necessities which the Treasurer absurdly describes as luxuries. This was the time to involve government in the purchase of residential land to reverse soaring land and housing prices. This was the time to turn rural relief into a long range programme for rural concentration in regional centres.

This was the time to begin to encourage chosen growth points outside and between the capitals by charging the minimum rate for telecommunications between those points and between them and the capital. This was the time to begin national participation in the regeneration of the urban public transport systems, to implement the latest Australian road survey, to order modern rolling stock and signalling systems for our inter-city railways, to investigate such developments as the French interurban and suburban aerotrains. This was the time to move away from providing scholarships for a minority and to move towards making education, including tertiary education, genuinely free.

This was the time to start the expanded programme of pre-school teacher training required to give every Australian child proper pre-schooling - the time to open a new world to a whole generation of Australian children. Australia possesses only 28 per cent of the number of qualified pre-school teachers required to give every child in every State the same start as every child in Canberra has long enjoyed. This was the time to put purchasing power in the hands of Australian families by restoring the value of child endowment or introducing family endowment. Whether a family includes one young child or 4 young children, it is still a one-income family. This was the time to begin a programme of direct Commonwealth commitment to the nation's hospitals.

This was the time to drop the frantic search for exploitable migrant labour, and being a programme of migrant family reunion. This was the time to start looking after the true welfare of the migrants already here - the people who suffer most from unemployment, most from the pressure in the state and parish schools, most from exorbitant land and housing costs, most from the decline of the quality of our cities. This was the time to stop the loss of 34,000 migrants a year by changing the emphasis from recruiting to retaining migrants. This was the time to begin to share the nation's financial resources directly with local government. This was the time to establish a prices justification tribunal, to prevent or retard those unjustified price increases which we well know the untramelled price fixers will try to sneak through in the spending atmosphere the Treasurer hopes to create.

This was the time to examine seriously the Reserve Bank's warning that last year's decision on the value of the currency is forcing internal prices up and raising overseas capital inflow to dangerously uncontrolled levels. This was the time to start building Australia's future on the basis of justice, equality and national co-operation. Those who aspire to lead this nation must do so on the basis of co-operation with the whole community, not by confronting key sectors of it. This is the root of the present national sickness - the feeling deeply held by whole sections of the community, the employees, large sections of the employers, the youth, the poor, the Aborigines, that their own elected Government is . at best totally indifferent, or at worst overtly hostile, to their hopes, that it seeks to divide them from their fellow citizens. And indeed, in its policies on cities and schools there is an attempt by this national Government to establish an actual physical as well as a cultural and economic division between the sections of the community.

It is in these things - things close to the national spirit - that the discontent of our community lies; the industrial, student and political unrest is just the most publicised manifestation, of. this unease. And it gets back to a lack of confidence in the national Government, not just in. its personnel, or their competence, not just lack of confidence in their capacity to manage the economy, but a lack of confidence in their very motives. The people of this country just do not trust this Liberal Government. And not the least reason is that this Liberal Government does not trust the people. Public confidence is being sapped in a climate of mutual and deepening suspicion and distruct. By all means let us have an election on this Budget; the sooner the better. However it will not be just in the narrow context of an annual financial document, but in the narrowness of the philosophy the Budget represents, arid the limited vision of the men who presented it to the Parliament and the nation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isthe amendment seconded?

Mr Barnard - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

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