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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1149

Mr BILNEY(11.11) —It is with very great pleasure that I rise to support the Government in this debate on the first Hawke Budget. I confidently expect that there will be another 20 Hawke Budgets while I am a member of parliament. It is a very easy Budget to support. I note from a recent public opinion poll that support for this Budget was greater than that for any other Budget in the past six years, and for all the right reasons. I think we know who brought down those last six Budgets and why they commanded so little support or respect from the ordinary people of Australia.

This Budget builds on the consensus that was established during the National Economic Summit Conference which was held earlier this year. I do not need to remind the House that that Economic Summit was an historic event. Not only did it bring together perhaps the 100 busiest women and men in Australia for a period when they actually sat down and listened to one another as distinct from talking at one another through the media, but it also ratified the prices and incomes accord which had been arrived at between the Government and the trade unions. I think most people agreed at that time that it was a first step in bringing Australia together as we promised during the election campaign.

The Budget also builds on the economic statement brought down on 19 May. There are certain aspects of that statement that I will return to, especially the housing package that was announced at that time. It also builds on the Premiers Conference which in its own way was historic since it was the first time in living memory that all the Premiers endorsed a communique which addressed the problems of the country in a positive way and displayed genuine sensitivity to the needs and the problems which the States face.

This is the first Budget for a long time that is a forward looking, compassionate and realistic document. It is honest compared with the rubbery Budgets we had in the past. In 1977 Mr Lynch, as he then was, described the figures in the Budget of the day as rubbery, and that statement certainly proved to be correct. If that Budget was rubbery what would one say about the Budget of 1982? It not only stretched figures but also credibility. There was a projected deficit of $1.7 billion but in the result it blew out to nearly $4.5 billion. Just before the last election we learnt to our horror that a projected $9.6 billion deficit was in prospect for 1983-84. Dealing with that situation has imposed its own strains and I think the Government's Budget has measured up in that regard.

I said it was a realistic Budget. That means that along with our May economic statement we are making a real start on tackling the economic problems which we inherited. It addresses the need to get back to a growth path. The only way to create real and lasting jobs is to create them in the private sector and in a way that will have a snowball effect-increased investment and more jobs in the future. The Budget particularly looks to the need to avoid undue pressure on interest rates. There can be no variable of more importance in the Budget than that. Whilst it may be argued that we have gone to the limit, that theory has certainly been proved by what has happened to interest rates since then. It is a forward looking Budget, as I mentioned, because it looks to the need to tackle inflation along with unemployment. It is a Budget that delivers. It looks to the future and to laying the groundwork for a genuine and sustainable recovery. For all those reasons it is an easy Budget to support.

By 'forward looking' I mean that by the end of the financial year we will see a growth rate of the order of five per cent, an inflation rate down around the seven per cent mark, which is much more in line with those of our trading partners, stable and, let us hope, declining interest rates, and the unemployment level tending downwards as the economy picks up. We should compare that prospect with what happened last year when, for the first time in over 20 years, the gross national product in this country declined. We went backwards by a factor of something like two per cent. I believe that our predecessors' dreadful economic performance last year will be remembered for a very long time. People will remember that record whenever those opposite put it to the electorate that they can run the economy effectively and efficiently instead of getting it into the hopeless mess that they did.

I do not propose to dwell for too long on the macro-economic effects of the Budget but I shall say one or two things more about interest rates, which I described earlier as the key variable for recovery. I had better make it clear that I am not one of those who believe that the size of the deficit does not matter and that we can infinitely expand it. I believe that large deficits put upward pressure on interest rates-they have to be financed-and rising interest rates are something that the Government should avoid at all costs. I have two very simple reasons for saying that. One is a general reason; I do not believe that one can get sustained recovery until business is able to show sufficient profits to led to a rise in private investment and hence to the creation of jobs -real jobs that will last. That promise to create jobs was Labor's main promise. For people on this side of the House it was a non-negotiable promise to those who elected us.

The second reason is that I represent the electorate with the highest proportion of people buying their first homes. These are people with two mortgages-young people on middle incomes with young families-and for them the key matter is the level of home loan interest rates. It is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate home mortgage interest rates from the interest rate structure generally. Given any sort of a choice, the people in my electorate of Kingston would prefer lower housing interest rates to any other blessing that the Government could bestow on them. They are absolutely right. I think the best news for a long time in this country-it is a key measure of how this Government' s Budget and its economic policies have been received-was the drop in home loan interest rates which we saw recently. That drop is now spreading from the banks to the building societies. That has to be the best news in a long time.

Before I turn to some specific features of the Budget of particular relevance to my electorate there is one other more general matter on which I wish to comment; that is, the allocation in the Budget for overseas development assistance-aid by Australia to developing countries. Let us never forget that however badly off we are in Australia, in comparison with two-thirds of the population of the world we are in an incomparably more fortunate position. A real measure of the degree of civilisation of a society is the extent to which it will assist others in vastly greater need. I commend the Government on the real increase of around four per cent in development assistance-about 12 1/2 per cent in money terms-for developing countries. In particular, I commend the Government for increasing the proportion of aid which will go to the very poorest in the poorest countries. In that regard as well the Budget has delivered on the promise we made to increase the ratio of development assistance to our gross national product, and that has happened. We have moved towards the generally accepted target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by a slight margin. There is a real increase from 0.47 per cent to 0.48 per cent. In commenting on this matter I should commend the Government on increasing the aid to be channelled through non-governmental organisations. Nobody is suggesting that these bodies alone should run our aid program, but they do perform a valuable function in making sure that aid gets down to the grass roots level. People say that charity should begin at home, and I am not one to disagree with that. However, we need to realise, first of all, that aid is not necessarily charity. Through many of our programs it provides jobs in Australia, particularly as a result of the increases in the development import finance facility program, which is used to purchase goods and services from Australia and thus keep people in jobs in this country. Anyone who says that charity should begin at home does not mean that it also should end at home and I commend the Government in that regard. Of course, no aid program is perfect, and while I admire the dedicated people who run our aid programs, often under dangerous conditions, I welcome also the announcement that we will be setting up an aid review under Gordon Jackson to review our programs.

So much for the general features of the Budget on which I wished to comment. In the limited time which is left to me I want to turn to some specific features of the Budget which are particularly relevant to my electorate of Kingston. In particular, I wish to refer to the ways in which the Budget will assist both in bringing a return to growth and prosperity in my area and in looking after those who at present are least well placed to survive present economic conditions.

Let me start with the latter group. I said earlier that the Budget was a compassionate Budget. By that I mean that it has identified those who are most in need and has sought to help them. By any measure, those who are most in need are the unemployed and the lone parents-the most disadvantaged group in Australia. I think people are quite familiar with the fact-many of my colleagues have referred to it in this debate-that we have maintained pension indexation. We have indexed the single adult unemployment benefit and will increase the benefit in November to $73.60 a week. We have increased the junior unemployment benefit to $45 a week pending a review of all youth allowances. We have increased the payments to pensioners' children by $2 a child from $10 to $12 a week and, we have increased to $12 a week the family income supplement which is paid to low income, non-pensioner families. We have indexed fringe benefit levels so that more pensioners can retain their pensioner health cards and others can become eligible for a health card for the first time. We have given an additional $10m for new children's services and have given an assurance that there will be an extra $30m for new services next year. We have also responded to the great need of the voluntary bodies which assist people in need by allocating $5m to those bodies.

There are some new measures in the Budget. Firstly, there is a spouse carer's allowance for a husband looking after an aged or invalid pensioner spouse. Secondly we have amended the Act so that unemployed single people with dependent children can receive mother's and guardian's allowance. This is the single most disadvantaged group in the community, and the new provision means that a deserted wife with two children who does not meet the residential qualifications will get an extra $16.95 a week. This group was previously furthest below the poverty line of all groups, and this new measure in the Budget responds to the needs of this group.

I now want to talk about the second group of measures I mentioned earlier, that is, those measures that will be particularly effective in bringing back growth and prosperity to Australia in general and to my electorate of Kingston in particular. I should like to range more widely, to talk about our real increase in expenditure to education and about the great reform which Medicare represents . It is a scheme which will bring real benefits to all Australians and give decent health care more cheaply to the vast majority of Australians. I should have liked to talk about training programs for youth, and the community youth support scheme in particular, which is getting an extra 10 per cent in the Budget. I would have liked to talk about the community employment program, but I cannot do everything.

Instead I shall concentrate on three areas which seem to be particularly important in creating real jobs in Kingston. Those are the housing package, tourism, and assistance to business in general. Housing is far and away the key issue in the electorate of Kingston. Kingston, the fastest growing electorate in South Australia, is expanding at the rate of over 3 per cent a year. It has many first home buyers, and the first home owners assistance program is a very welcome measure, in my opinion, for this group of people. There are new grants of $7,000 to an eligible couple with two children, payment of which can be spread over five years. People also have the option of taking $2,000 in a lump sum and receiving $4,500 over five years to assist with the repayments of interest, or there is a third option of taking $3,500 in a lump sum plus $2,750 over five years. This will assist the 90 per cent of the market who buy homes privately. The scheme will cost $120m in 1983-84, and already its effects are being felt.

The second measure under the housing package relates to public housing, which was slashed by our predecessors. We have raised expenditure by 50 per cent on that program. In 1983-84 there will be a total allocation of $1,200m, including the States' allocations. It will certainly assist the South Australian Housing Trust. It will certainly assist the Bannon Government which, quite rightly, has made housing a major priority of its own. I absolutely applaud this measure. The third leg is of course home loan interest rates. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a recent drop in home loan interest rates which is now spreading to building societies. I think a great part of that very welcome development is due to the Government's policies included in the Budget. What has been the effect of these measures? Housing commencements last year were down to their lowest since 1962-that is to say, 106,000. We said that we would get housing commencements up to 128,000 this year. Recent figures which have appeared suggest that we are well on the way to that objective. As everybody knows, this is a great way of providing jobs because for every job on the site of a housing project another one is provided off the site. It is a great confidence builder because people can see, as they can see all over the electorate of Kingston, housing construction going ahead and employing people.

The other matter that is of particular relevance to Kingston is that of tourism . I will not be able to speak on that matter for as long as I should like, but I commend the Government on recognising at last that this is the real growth industry of the future. It is already the third largest industry in South Australia. My area stands particularly to benefit from it because it is the most beautiful area in South Australia and it is near to Adelaide. People can come and visit the wineries and see the almond blossom-

Mr Shipton —The Minister does not like Adelaide.

Mr BILNEY —I can say to the honourable member that the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) will be in Adelaide on 29 September to visit Thomas Hardy and Sons Pty Ltd wineries at Reynella and to launch the Fleurieu Holiday Playground booklet put out by the tourist association in my area. With a bit of luck, Jim Hardy will be back from winning the America's Cup by that time and he will be able to promote further tourism in South Australia. I congratulate the Government also on the very substantial additional allocations to heritage programs and for the environment in this Budget. These matters are set out in some detail in the Budget Papers. We have increased our grants to voluntary conservation organisations, and the national estate and heritage program. We have increased grants for the protection of historic shipwrecks, of which there is one in my electorate. There has been a very large increase in grants to the Australian Heritage Commission for the National Estate program. The grant has gone up by 58 per cent to $1.2m. Honourable members might ask why this is relevant. People come and to see our buildings, our beautiful countryside, and so forth. If we do not protect them then we do not have the basis for a tourist industry. That is why I think these two things are particularly linked.

As far as tourism itself is concerned, I very much congratulate the Government on the massive increase in promotional funds provided to the Australian Tourist Commission. Jobs will be increasingly in service industries because machines cannot make beds, cannot cook meals, cannot run restaurants and cannot drive buses; nor are they jobs which are at risk from overseas because it is hard to import a cheap barrier reef or to manufacture another Ayers Rock for people to look at overseas. I commend and fully support the objective to double the number of tourists coming to Australia by 1988. One needs to say that if Australia did as well as Yugoslavia in attracting tourists, we would have more than full employment in this country.

I simply conclude on that note by saying that this Budget seeks to bring back growth and prosperity. I fully expect that my electorate will benefit from that disproportionately because it suffered disproportionately from the appalling policies and administration of the previous Government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.