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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1177

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.18) —The Opposition has raised this matter of public importance because yesterday the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) indicated yet again that he is quite prepared to mislead the community on a major area of Government policy. This is a very serious indictment of the integrity of the Government and the Prime Minister in particular. The Prime Minister has already misled the elderly, he has already misled the unemployed and he has already misled the electorate with a proliferation of broken promises . Now he has misled the business community over uranium mining. At the same time one of his Ministers has misled Australians over a capital gains tax and, indeed , the Prime Minister himself has come close to doing that with the denial of a previous promise never to introduce such a tax. On 2 September the Prime Minister told the Business Council of Australia:

As far as our Government is concerned, the Federal Government and the Government of South Australia, the Roxby development is going ahead and nothing is going to stop that.

Quite naturally, the leaders of Australia's business community accepted that the Prime Minister meant what he said. After all, the remark won their warm and undoubtedly spontaneous applause. I was there. I heard it and so did other members of the Opposition front bench. The Prime Minister spoke with great fervour and passion of the Government's announcement.

Mr Howard —Unambiguous.

Mr PEACOCK —It was quite unambiguous.

Mr Howard —He misled them.

Mr PEACOCK —He certainly did mislead them. Subsequently we learnt that the Prime Minister did not mean what he said at all. We now know that when he boldly said 'as far as our Government is concerned', he meant only as far as he was concerned. When he said 'the Roxby development is going ahead' he really meant to use the words of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) just a week ago when he said 'the formal policy decision on that has not yet been made' . To use the Prime Minister's words of yesterday, this is 'still a matter for discussion'. So the confusion has caused uncertainty in the business community. The hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment at Roxby Downs may or may not proceed. The once in a lifetime opportunity to revitalise the sluggish South Australian economy may or may not take place. The hundreds of jobs which would flow from this project may or may not be created. We do not know because the Government has not taken a decision. It is disturbing, to put it mildly, that the Prime Minister, the head of the Government, should deceive the community into believing a decision had been taken. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the House:

. . . the major requirement of the business community is the maximum possible degree of certainty.

I do not know what the maximum possible degree of certainty means. One is either certain or not certain. It seems to me that anything less than that is somewhat uncertain. But the Prime Minister said:

. . . the maximum possible degree of certainty.

I could not agree more. Why is it then that the Prime Minister creates uncertainty by saying what he does not really mean? Even his statement on certainty is deceptive when measured against the Government's erratic performance. Australians are entitled to know why the Prime Minister has deliberately misled the business community. Does the Prime Minister tell every audience that he speaks to what it wants to hear, no matter whether it is true or false? The answer is perfectly clear; he has demoted integrity a very long way down his order of priorities. It is little wonder that he repeatedly tries to tell Australians that he is honest. We have the integrity shoebox coming out again. His strategy is built on the old political slogan: If you say something often enough, enough people will believe you. It is a strategy that will fail. It will be destroyed by the realisation that if you say one thing often enough and do the reverse every time, no one will believe you. The uranium saga is far from the first example of prime ministerial deception. In his policy speech of 16 February the Prime Minister said:

. . . the Labor Party is not in the business, of making promises that cannot be fulfilled.

In the same speech he also said:

I believe the Australian people have had enough of election promises made only to be broken.

Those words and the Prime Minister's repeated claims that he always tells the truth raised expectations in the community. They raised expectations-reasonably enough-that the Prime Minister would do what he said and that a Labor Government would be one of the highest integrity; but it is one of the greatest indictments of all against the Labor Government that these expectations, without exception, were totally unrealised. Instead of a Prime Minister who does what he says, Australians have a Prime Minister who says one thing but means another. It is classic Hawkespeak; instead of a government of integrity we Australians have a government which blatantly uses deceit to ward off criticism. The Government and the Prime Minister in particular have brought politics and politicians into disrepute.

The first signs of this Hawkespeak appeared soon after the general election. The Prime Minister promised that Labor would attack the problem of unemployment. He promised that Labor would create 500,000 jobs over three years. This was, as he said, Australia's overwhelming need. He repeated that promise at the National Economic Summit Conference and he repeated it again last month. What are the facts? The facts show that the creation of more jobs is not regarded by the Prime Minister as the overwhelming need. For example, instead of choosing scenario C at the Summit, which offered the best chance of meeting that ' overwhelming need', he opted for scenario A. In other words he opted for a policy which put a deal with the unions ahead of a deal with the unemployed and ensured that 100,000 fewer Australians will get work than would have occurred under scenario C. The Prime Minister promised 500,000 jobs. By the Government's own admission, the Government's economic strategy will see dole queues 26 per cent longer this year. The Prime Minister promised 500,000 jobs! In the six months since the election 68,300 jobs have been lost, or, in seasonally adjusted terms, 100 have been created. Instead of 500,000 jobs being created over three years, at the present rate only a little over one-tenth of one per cent of that number will be created. He is deceiving not only the business community by telling them one thing and doing another; he is also deceiving the unemployed.

The Prime Minister's deception extends far beyond business and the unemployed. What about the elderly who have also been deceived? On 15 April the present incumbent of the prime ministership told a Press conference that there has been no basis for the speculation that the rate of tax on lump sum superannuation payments would be increased.

Mr Howard —That was after the election as well.

Mr PEACOCK —That was after the election. During the election there was to be no increase in taxation. As late as 15 April there was no basis for the speculation that there would be an increase in the rate of tax on lump sum superannuation. He told not only the Press conference but also the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Honourable members will recall that members of the executive of that body nailed him for what he showed himself to be by that statement after the decision was changed. The House hardly needs to be reminded that in the mini- Budget the Prime Minister did the very reverse. He promised on 15 February that his Government would not--

Mr Howard —Oh, this is a good one.

Mr PEACOCK —The shadow Treasurer recalls this matter well because he heard the Prime Minister say that the Labor Government 'will not take money out of the pensioner's cheque'. By increasing the superannuation tax, by means testing pensions for those over 70 years of age and by introducing an assets test the reality is that he has taken money out of the pensioner's cheque. What was wrong with the simple decency of telling the truth of the Government's intentions all along? Why did he tell the elderly one thing and do another? There is another example of the duplicity of this Government. It is characterised even today by the Government's approach to a capital gains tax. On 16 February the Prime Minister said:

There will be no new capital gains tax.

That promise has been repeated again and again since. Yesterday the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) said:

It is my view that there should be a capital gains tax in Australia and I will continue to advocate it both publicly and within the Government.

Today I asked the Prime Minister to put that down. He refused. He would not rule out a capital gains tax; so yet another promise, to use the Nixonian phrase, is inoperable. Any Government with integrity would stick by its commitment. This Government has abandoned its commitment and, undoubtedly, its integrity. The Combe-Ivanoff affair has revealed a government and, in particular, a Prime Minister wallowing in self-contradiction and public deception. There is, as the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) sought to imply in a question that was ruled out of order yesterday, no difference between what the former Special Minister of State (Mr Young) did and what the current incumbent of the prime ministership did in ringing his mates and tipping them off.

So he should not allow statements of propriety and honesty to exude like some antiseptic atmosphere from that side of the House; it is the very antithesis.

Mr Howard —I bet you will not have to put that on the public register.

Mr PEACOCK —No, there will be no mention of that on the public register but I may be chased again. An endeavour may be made to put me in gaol for political comment. This is the first Australian Prime Minister to seek to have an Opposition leader gaoled for political comment. Such are the notions of civil liberties practised by this person! Some weeks ago, as the House will remember, the Prime Minister piously acted to prevent the media-quite apart from me- commenting on evidence given to the Hope Royal Commission on Australia's Intelligence and Security Agencies. That action was taken, of course, to protect witnesses and to ensure that the Royal Commissioner's work was not prejudiced by outside interference. That standard was set. The Prime Minister then decided to pass his own judgment on Mr Combe's evidence and he said that much of Mr Combe's evidence was inaccurate. I bring that matter into these other elements because the matter of public importance we put down at the end of this three-week session, namely, the public concern caused by the increasing number of conflicting statements on Government policy, as instanced by comments on the development of Roxby Downs and capital gains tax, indeed contains matters of public importance to be discussed today. Double standards like that from any citizen are bad enough. It would be bad enough if we were able to nail such a schedule of double standards from any person in any honourable member's electorate, but from a Prime Minister of this country they are nothing less than a disgrace.

These incidents are not the full story of the Prime Minister's record of double standards and deception-the long, long list of broken promises. Honourable members will recall the ones I read out at the end of the May session of this Parliament. We are daily adding to that list and we will trot them out again before this Parliament closes at the end of the year. The long, long list of broken promises tells a story in itself. Australians have a right to expect integrity from anybody with whom they deal. Above all, they have a right to expect integrity from their Prime Minister, for that, quite apart from elements of propriety, is central to good government. What they have instead, and it has to be said, is a Prime Minister who puts deception before responsibility; a Prime Minister who puts deception before integrity; and a Prime Minister who, in his professions of honesty, has now been seen to be protesting too much.