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Wednesday, 26 November 1980
Page: 58

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - The Address-in-Reply debate is a parliamentary occasion which we all value and appreciate. It is an occasion for expression of the importance of the relationship between the head of state and the national legislature. I move:

That the following Address-in-Reply be agreed to:

To His Excellency the Governor-General

May it please Your Excellency -

We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

I am greatly honoured to be given the opportunity to move this motion on what will be the last occasion in which I will be participating in the ceremonies and procedures connected with the opening of a new parliament. My first involvement with a parliamentary opening was on 20 February 1962 when the then Governor-General, Lord De L'isle, delivered the Speech. Yesterday in this chamber we witnessed the traditional ceremony during which His Excellency the Governor-General opened the Thirty-second Parliament and outlined the Government's programs and priorities for the next three years. In that ceremony there was the coming together of the three components of what we call the Westminster system - the Crown, the upper chamber and the lower chamber or, as I prefer to call it, the Sovereign, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Westminster system is a flexible system. It is one that is constantly under challenge and involved in debate, but one which has served the Mother of Parliaments well through the long years and one which serves the Australian Parliament and many other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth equally well. As I have mentioned, one component of the system is the Sovereign and in Australia the Sovereign is represented by the Governor-General, her personal representative. In the first few decades after Federation in Australia difficulties arose concerning the precise nature of the relationship between the Sovereign and the Governor-General. However, as Sir Zelman Cowen pointed out in his book the British Commonwealth of Nations, the issue was resolved following the appointment of Sir Isaac Isaacs in 1931. I would like to quote from Sir Zelman Cowen's book, which he wrote in 1964. He said: . . The Governor-General was the Sovereign's personal representative; he was not in any respect an agent of the United Kingdom Government, nor should the United Kingdom Government have any voice in his appointment, which should be a matter between the Sovereign and the dominion government concerned . . .

But the Governor-General is more than the personal representative of the Sovereign of the day. The Governor-General can and does represent Australia and all Australians to the world. I want to emphasise that the position of head of state in any country is recognition of a practical necessity in the handling of that nation's affairs.

Sir ZelmanCowen and Lady Cowen, by the effective and accomplished discharge of their duties, have given and are continuing to give a splendid account of their stewardship. Sir Zelman brings to his office a wealth of scholarship and administrative ability. He brings to it a talent relating to the law and to the Constitution. He evinces his pleasure in the world of the arts and relates the lessons of history to Australian contemporary life. He gives a splendid example to all Australians by his capacity for hard work. He works hard and successfully at his important job and any study of the Vice-Regal columns will give an indication of the great distances travelled and the enormous number of appointments fulfilled. Most importantly, Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen are very fine Australian citizens. As I have said, on top of all these endeavours, Sir Zelman has contributed through his many works to the study of the role of the Commonwealth of Nations in the modern world. There were references to this in the Speech which His Excellency was pleased to deliver to the Parliament yesterday. 1 believe that the relevance of the Commonwealth is that within the Commonwealth of Nations, the association of nations, there exists a microcosm of the world. One of the emerging values in this microcosm of the world is the importance of regional associations, regional connections, regional values and regional conferences. For example, as a result of the adoption of this policy of the value of regionalism within the Commonwealth, in 1978 Australia played host to the first meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in the Asia-Pacific region. The second meeting took place in India only a few months ago, and we are looking forward to the next meeting of all Commonwealth heads of Government which is to be held in Australia next year and which is to be attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

As His Excellency said in his Speech yesterday afternoon, and as we all know, a general election was held on Saturday, 1 8 October, and the Fraser Government was returned. It has in the House of Representatives a majority of some 23 seats, while the composition of the Senate after July of next year will mean that the Government will have 32 seats, the Opposition will have 26 seats, the Australian Democrats will have five seats, and there will be one Independent. However, this will not be the first time in our history that a Liberal Government has not commanded a majority in this chamber. There is a record of capacity of Liberal governments to govern under these difficult circumstances. Those who hold the balance in the Senate should look very carefully at their new found power and their new found authority. I am certain that for all of the high sounding phrases, they will be very careful before they put their own seats at risk.

In the recent election the swing was of the order of 4 per cent to the Australian Labor Party. But once again no across the board swing was achieved. In fact, the swing to the ALP varied from less that 2 per cent in South Australia to round about 6 per cent in Victoria. But even within States there were differing swings in different electorates. Swings are features of elections, and are the substance of which political controversies are made. The swing flowed from an election campaign which had a number of changing circumstances. The Government's campaign was firmly based on its sound record. It pointed to stability in the economy and responsibility in economic management. It pointed to the need for a broad based and responsible program of national development. The policy included adequate provision, for those in need, from the prosperity which Australia generates, and it pointed to a sense of sound direction which has continued and will continue to guide Australia through a world of conflict, division and other problems. In response, the Opposition developed an obsession which did no more than multiply into an attack on the leadership of our country. Speaker after speaker launched attack after attack on the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The attacks were political, personal, provoking, persistent and continual. The leaders of the Opposition in the election campaign campaigned day after day on radio, television and in the newspapers that the election was all about leaders and leadership. As a result of this persistence, policy matters appeared to have fallen by the way and the intention of the Australian people seemed to focus on some inaccurate and unreliable productions of the newspapers which somehow came to be known as opinion polls. In the event, the polls failed, and were all wrong. The campaign against the Prime Minister failed and, what is more, failed dismally. So much for the argument on leadership. The Australian people proved that they were not going to be influenced by figments of some Press deduction because when they went to vote, they voted for a leader they knew, for a record that they could trust, and for a leadership that was strong.

In South Australia, on two party preferred terms, the swing away from the Liberal Party was of the order of only one to two per cent, lt was the smallest swing away from the Government in any of the States. Of course, when one looks at specific results one sees that the swings are greater. For example, in the seat of Hindmarsh, Labor had a swing of 7 per cent recorded against it. The results recorded in South Australia are very satisfying in the face of the national swing. This result reflects the role of the Liberal Government in South Australia led by the Premier, Mr David Tonkin. In the year that his government has been in office a new confidence has returned to South Australia.

The new Ministry has been appointed and we offer congratulations to all its members. 1 am sorry to say that the South Australian component in the Ministry is small and 1 further press the case for greater representation for South Australia. We congratulate the honourable member for Sturt, Mr Ian Wilson, on his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. But I think we all very heartily congratulate Senator Tony Messner on his appointment as Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Treasurer. He is the first South Australian Minister in the Senate since the late Senator George McLeay. Senator George McLeay was Minister for Shipping and Transport and Leader of the Government in the Senate during the 1950s. Senator Messner brings to his office managerial and administrative skills which come from his own profession. He brings considerable political ability and an extensive knowledge of South Australia and its affairs. We recall with appreciation the ministerial work of Mr John McLeay for the Government and for South Australia.

The first important and sustained reference in His Excellency's Speech yesterday was to the matter of employment and youth. His Excellency said:

In recent years, and for a number of reasons, the question of jobs for young people has emerged as a crucial one, not only in Australia but in virtually all Western countries. It is nol only an economic problem but a social one. Indeed, for the young people involved and their families it is a major psychological and human problem.

In the early 1970s, government policy sought to contract economic activity in an attempt to check inflation. However, as a result unemployment levels began to rise. Policies then became expansionist. These policies were carried on by the Whitlam Government and a new problem arose, because the annual rate of inflation doubled through 1973 to reach 11.3 per cent in the December quarter. Australia found that it had to cope with the twin problems of rising unemployment and rising inflation. By mid- 1974 Australia's unemployment level reached 100,000. Within a few months it was 200,000. In fact, in the period between June 1974 to July 1975 unemployment rose by a massive 300 per cent.

Within the last 1 8 months positive signs have been displayed in relation to this problem. Over this period employment growth rates have risen. Teenage employment has improved substantially. Over the last year we have had the highest rises in this employment area for some 15 years. Last month saw the unemployment level for those seeking full time work fall. It fell to a level below those recorded in October 1979 and 1978, and the work force participation rate has been increased and now stands at almost the pre- 1973 level.

When this Government came to office it had to set about a number of things, one of which was the economy. In this task first priority was given to reducing the level of inflation - which it held and it still holds - restoring economic growth and therefore creating employment. This year, the inflation rate hovers at about 1 0 per cent per annum with a prospect of further reduction. As the Treasurer (Mr Howard) pointed out when bringing down the Budget, Australia's inflation rate is some three points lower than the average for member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Gross domestic product is growing by over 2 per cent per annum. Between September 1979 and September 1980 the employment rate grew by 3.4 per cent or well over 2,000 jobs. Against the background of the situation which the Government found on assuming office these figures represent considerable achievements. They add support to the Government's economic policies and add support and confirmation to the matters which His Excellency mentioned yesterday in his Speech. As a result of the Government's policies areas of economic activity in Australia are expanding and as a result the potential for employment is constantly being created. Indeed, the Government has implemented many schemes to assist people in obtaining employment. During its five years in office it has assisted some 570,000 Australians through its manpower and training programs. Some of the results of these programs are quite outstanding. Volume 3 of the Myers report on technological change notes that some 75 to 80 per cent of the people undergoing on-the-job or intheplant training through the National Employment and Training Scheme are in employment six to 12 weeks after the completion of training. The report goes on to evaluate many other programs ranging from the Commonwealth Employment Service right through to the Government's apprentice schemes.

All of these schemes, and the importance the Government gives to them, exemplify the Government's determination to provide - indeed, they are a measure of the Government's achievements in providing - assistance to all Australians who require assistance when entering the work force. They support what was said yesterday and they exemplify the Government's desire to reduce unemployment. The Government is proceeding in that task. Furthermore, the launching of the transition from school to work program is designed to provide appropriate educational and training opportunities for young people with poor employment prospects. The schemes also tackle the problem of people in schools who are likely to be in difficulties when it comes their turn to leave. The ultimate aim is to ensure that all young people in the 15 to 19 years age group are provided with options in education, training and employment so that unemployment becomes the least acceptable alternative. It was therefore very fitting that His Excellency said in his Speech yesterday:

My Government has a clear and firm commitment to youth . . .

A framework is being established within which the Government's training programs will provide a wide range of incentives . . .

A significant portion of His Excellency's Speech was devoted to the subject of caring for people. Honourable senators will remember the heading 'Caring for People' in the speech. It was a significant reference, ranging from a reference to youth and their future to reference to the economy. The involvement of government in social services is very important. It deals with areas of need. There will always be differing opinions about the extent of any need. The GovernorGeneral's Speech refers to the importance the Government places on this need. The speech commenced with an indication of concern for the family. Strengthening the family unit is basic to a strong society. The role, style and type of the family unit is changing faster today than ever before. Such things as mobility, community services, recreational facilities and educational styles and opportunities all influence the difference that exists between today's family and yesterday's family and the difference that will exist between today's family and tomorrow's family. Family links must remain strong. Whilst governments may have a major responsibility to sustain the family, I suggest that the community at large must recognise the contribution it should make in relation to this matter.

Similarly, for senior citizens the Government must do more than provide funds. This year social security and welfare expenditure will amount to a very large sum - some $9,000m. This represents nearly 30 per cent of the total Budget outlay. What is more, 50 per cent of that social security allocation is spent on providing services to the aged. I mention that because we have to take account of the demands that will be made on governments in this sphere in the next two or three decades. The national population inquiry states that there will be another 600,000 aged persons by the year 2000. That is in addition to the 1.3 million senior people recorded at 30 June last year. As a result, the proportion of aged, senior or older persons in the community will rise from some 1 1 per cent to some 14 per cent. What is more, in Australia today between 200 and 300 people retire from the work force each day. That statistic is relevant in considering what role the senior person in our society will play in the next two decades. Certainly, a great deal more research needs to be undertaken into the effect that will have. It will demand extra money from government and also will demand additional contributions from communities. The Government, through its programs, is providing and will continue to provide opportunities for communities to become aware of the problem. The GovernorGeneral's Speech reflects the Government's awareness of this matter. I commend it to their attention.

I mention only one other matter in the context of caring for people, that is the reference in the Speech to the International Year of Disabled Persons which has been proclaimed by the United Nations and has the theme of full participation and equality. The object of the exercise is to make the public more aware of the special needs of disabled people and to undertake means of providing for them so they will not feel deprived or inadequate. The Government has established a national committee of non-government organisations and has granted that committee substantial funds. State committees had been set up and already State Ministers have conferred. In Canberra the National Library of Australia has established a national advisory committee on library services to the handicapped, which I have the honour to chair. Currently, throughout the country, arrangements for co-operation and planning are being established through the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Ellicott), the Prime Minister and the Premiers. In ali, the segment of the Governor-General's Speech relating to caring for people provided the correct balance between national development on the one hand and providing care for those who need it on the other hand.

Finally, I turn to the last paragraphs of His Excellency's Speech. I regard those principles as of great importance to the place of politics in this country and to the significance of parliament. That section of the Speech takes up the matter of beliefs and philosophies which underline the Government's policies. The Speech rightly says that explanations and discussions on the underlying principles of government action are necessary to the Australian community. The absence of them has, as the Speech states, 'diminished the quality of political life in the country'. For too long political parties on the one hand and the Australian electorate on the other hand have given their attention solely to material promises. I believe the time has come for the electorate to make up its mind on political principles, on whether, on the one hand, it will suffer the effects of big government with all its interference and controls or whether, on the other hand, it will appreciate and support the benefits of smaller government with more opportunities for personal development.

In the recent election the Australian people reflected their desire for a liberal society - one in which government administers policies that maximise the rewards of individual effort' and respect the right of individuals to shape their own lives'. Above all liberal political philosophy takes its bearing from the rights of individuals and the right to choose. People must make the choice for themselves to go about their own business and to respect the rights of others to do likewise. Governments cannot make that decision. Australians want to make that decision for themselves and they expect governments to respect their right to choose. Yet, even as they do that they also expect governments to help the individual by providing certain social, political and economic conditions that are conducive to free choice. This does not mean inactive government for the Government's duty is to provide the right conditions for all people to have equal opportunities to go about their own business. Government intervention, kept to a minimum, is necessary to care for those whose circumstances, not of their own making, have placed them in some position of particular difficulty. Government should be limited in its domestic policy to pursuing that goal of equality of opportunity.

We need to draw attention to the distinction between political philosophies and to make up our minds which political philosophy we believe in, which political philosophy we want, and which political philosophy we believe is best for Australia. Having made up our minds, we must work for it and support it because it finds expression through government and through Parliament. Ours is a system of representative government. The people elect a government to govern on their behalf. Free elections are the one great means of opening up government to public observation, public criticism, and public censure.

Then we come to the matter which I believe is very important: What happens between elections? How can the public who elect a government participate in that government between elections? It is here that the Parliament comes into the picture and parliamentary reform becomes important. Parliamentary institutions are meant to be open and representative, but as the machinery of government grows this becomes more difficult. People can become alienated from political and parliamentary institutions and even cynical about Parliament. Parliamentary reform can help to redress this imbalance, not only by opening up the Executive to parliamentary scrutiny but also by encouraging greater public input into the parliamentary system itself. It is here that the Senate has led the way in parliamentary reform in Australia. Its legislative and general purpose committees solicit public participation and allow people to see that it is their opinions and not those of special interest groups that are being represented in the committee reports which influence public policy. John Stuart Mill's great phrase was that Parliament's primary duty was not that of doing the work but of causing it to be done. The Committees can act as channels of communication between government and the people - channels which are open between elections to maintain the representative character of our parliamentary institutions. Committees can report the will of the people on specific policy matters and, therefore, cause the work to be done.

On the one hand, the Government's program, reflected in the Speech delivered yesterday to the Parliament by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, pursues the Government's successful policy of allowing for the development of the individual, and on the other hand the Senate's program gives the opportunity to that individual to speak to the Parliament. This Address-in-Reply debate will continue. It will reveal contention and argument. It must do that. As long as parliaments and politics exist, contention and argument are part of the trade. As long as there are contention and argument the Parliament will be healthy and active. If contention and argument should cease,

Parliament and politics will die, and that must never be allowed to happen. I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to move the Address-in-Reply.

Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.

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