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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1179


Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(3.34) —What we have heard today from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) is a frantic attempt to find some issue on which his Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, and indeed the other Party which makes up the Opposition, the National Party of Australia, are united . The Opposition parties are in tatters. They are now seeking to focus, in this debate on uranium, on an issue on which they are undeniably united. The Opposition parties are undoubtedly united on the issue of uranium. That is one of the few matters on which they are united. Both in government and in opposition they have pursued a policy which is clear, and it is also in clear distinction to the policies the Australian Labor Party is pursuing.

The Opposition parties are entirely unconcerned about the uses to which Australian uranium is put. They are completely unconcerned about the consequences for nuclear proliferation as a result of the use of Australian uranium. They are completely unconcerned about the fact that some Australian uranium might find its way, through reactors, into spent fuel rods and into the hands of powers which have a nuclear capacity, including indeed, the possibility of Australian uranium finding its way into the hands of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. They are unconcerned about the issues of waste disposal, about the practice of some countries dumping nuclear waste in the sea, even in the sea not far from our own boundaries. They are not concerned about the establishment of nuclear free zones in the world in a way which would extend the prospects of durable and maintainable peace on this globe.

On the other hand, we are extremely concerned about the consequences of the arms race. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has taken a number of initiatives for Australia to play its role in relation to the maintenance of peace and the achievement of disarmament. That is why we have established an Ambassador for Disarmament and that is why, as the Foreign Minister said yesterday, we are establishing a peace institute in this country. Our policy is not one which is concerned simply with the size and scale of the uranium industry in this country. We are concerned also about the conduct of any uranium industry which exists in this country. We are concerned about the way in which uranium produced in this country might be used in the hands of purchasing countries. That is why our policy, agreed to at our last national conference of the Party, goes at some length into the questions of how a Labor government would determine these sorts of issues in relation to the uranium industry.

As the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) indicated today, this is not an issue on which there is either a need to rush to a hasty decision, or indeed where it would be sensible to do so. There are legitimate and firmly held views throughout the community on what should be the size, scale and role of an Australian uranium industry. That is why the Prime Minister has indicated that the Government will encourage debate on this important issue, not only within the Labor Party but also within the wider community. He recognises that it is important that on this vexed question there should be the maximum amount of rational debate on the important issues that are at stake. That is something which this Party, as opposed to the parties that are now in opposition, has always practised. We have always been prepared to debate issues fearlessly and openly, even issues on which there are very strenuously held views amongst members within our Party. This issue is no exception. Indeed, this is a classic case of where that kind of debate can move not only the Government but also the country to a more sensible appreciation and a more sensible policy in relation to this important question.

The Leader of the Opposition spent some time on what he alleged to be the broken promises of this Government. In that respect he is on very firm ground. Because nobody knows more about broken promises than do the members of the Liberal and National parties. After all, they are the broken promise experts. We do not have to remind the people of Australia about the numerous claims, the numerous promises, which were made prior to successive elections. Those promises were made only to be broken. This Party in opposition and in government has made perfectly clear the areas in which it would act. Indeed, we have a very distinguished record as far as that matter is concerned. Many of the alleged broken promises to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred in the past are simply due to the fact that, in a number of areas, we have not yet had the capacity to act and implement the policies with which we are committed to proceed. The reason for that was the appalling state of the economy which we inherited, which was not disclosed to this Party or to the people of Australia. Of course, our program had to be revised in the light of these revelations on assuming office immediately after the election.

Let us go to some of the promises which we not only made but on which we have acted speedily. In the first instance there is the recoupment tax, a promise which was clearly made, a policy which was carefully argued long before the election and during the election. Yet, when we introduced the legislation to give effect to that promise the Opposition voted against it in this House and in the Senate, and of course it was defeated in that place. The Opposition now has another opportunity to allow us to give effect to one of the promises we made because a similar piece of legislation is currently before the Senate. If the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition parties are serious about keeping us to our promises, then one would have thought that the appropriate thing to do was at least not to have voted against legislation which would have given effect to important parts of our election undertaking.

Secondly, there is the area of Medicare, again carefully and coherently argued over several years, a major part of our election campaign. Yet when we move to give effect to that promise, to introduce it into the Parliament, all we have is a scurry of frantic opposition from the parties opposite. They are not interested in whether we give effect to our election undertakings. They are simply concerned to try to cover up the enourmously shattered fabric which makes up the Opposition in this country. The unity in the Opposition parties is as much a shibboleth now as it was when they were in government. We need only refer the Leader of the Opposition to his comments about not only the state of the Government in those days but also the personality of the former Prime Minister with his tyrannical desire to dominate and his practice of terrorising his Ministers, and so on. That was the sort of government we had then. It was a government which existed entirely on fear, its Ministers being in fear of the retribution which could have been wreaked on them by their then Leader. It was that Government, of course, which the now Leader of the Opposition walked out of . Then when an election was imminent and when his prospects of advancement appeared to be greater he came back into it, only to help to carry it to a most humiliating defeat.

This Government is entirely united. This Government is entirely coherent on the issues which the Leader of the Opposition sought to raise. I will refer briefly to the charges he made about our attitude to a capital gains tax. I will quote what the Labor Party's policy says. In the economic platform under the heading ' Taxation' paragraph 11d says:

Application by an effective tax on realised capital gains and profits by taking all necessary legislative and administrative action to ensure the strict enforcement of the existing tax on speculative capital gains and profit-making schemes contained in section 26 (a) of the Income Tax Amendment Act, thereby requiring speculators and tax avoiders to pay tax presently being avoided.

This was re-affirmed by the Prime Minister in his policy speech. After he said ' There will be no new capital gains tax', he added:

But we will not be deterred-and no Australian Government worthy of the name should ever have been deterred-from upholding and using the existing laws of the Commonwealth of Australia, interpreted in the spirit in which those laws are now being interpreted by the High Court, to tax speculative gains and prevent tax evasion and tax avoidance. All that is needed is a government with the will and determination to apply the law.

Similarly, in June the Treasurer (Mr Keating) said that we have not given any thought to the question of a new capital gains tax, that the national conference rejected the concept of a new capital gains tax and that what we are on about is making the existing law more effective. That is the question to which the Treasurer addressed himself in the Budget Speech when he indicated that we were going to strengthen the current provisions of section 26 (a). There can be no doubt that in doing so we will be strengthening the existing laws in relation to the taxation of speculative capital gains. There can be no argument about that. There can be no retreat from that as far as this Government is concerned. We recognise that one of the great reasons for the enormous tax rip-off that occurred due to the negligence of our predecessors was simply that the laws which currently exist to prevent that tax avoidance either were not being interpreted properly and therefore needed strengthening or were not being properly applied. Therefore, we have given an undertaking to use the existing law in a way which will prevent the avoidance of tax.

I want to cover the points which the Leader of the Opposition raised and to indicate the Government's policy on those important issues. But I repeat that what the Leader of the Opposition is really concerned about is the fact that the Opposition, which he leads with some lack of confidence, is in tatters and hopelessly divided on a number of centrally important issues. On the question of a wages policy we find an absolutely irreconcilable difference in views between the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). In relation to the enlarging of the Commonwealth Parliament we have a complete disagreement between the Liberal Party and the National Party. In relation to the Sex Discrimination Bill there are not only serious divisions between the parties but also a division within the Liberal Party, with one of its members, the responsible shadow Minister, saying that anybody who votes against the Sex Discrimination Bill proposed by this Government is not fit to be a member of the Liberal Party. Yet in due course no doubt most of the members of the Liberal Party and certainly all the members of the National Party will be lining up to vote against this proposal when it is voted on in the Senate and when it comes before this House.

The Leader of the Opposition drew attention to a number of other issues in relation to the record of the Prime Minister. He referred to the assets test and to the taxation of superannuation lump sums. We know that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is in complete accord with the Government in relation to moves in those areas. Indeed, I would be surprised if the Leader of the Opposition, in his more honest moments, did not also agree. I thought that the Leader of the Opposition came from a strand of thought within the Liberal Party which was concerned about ensuring that public funds went to the areas of greatest need- that they were applied to those people who needed them and not to those people who did not. That is the purpose behind these two important reforms. This Government has introduced them to ensure that public funds are properly applied and to ensure that those funds which are available can be more generously applied to those people who need them and not simply squandered on those people who quite frankly do not need them.