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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1186

Mr MILDREN(4.17) —Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer (Mr Keating) on his first Budget. I would also like to welcome to the Gallery some friends of mine from Kyneton Sacred Heart College -a very fine school. There is no doubt that this Budget has enjoyed much wider acceptance than any other Budget in recent years. This was mentioned by the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Bilney) this morning. We recognise-as I think any government recognises-that because of the perspectives which a government has to have and the depth of understanding which it must apply, there will be some sections in the community who will not be quite as elated as others about the Budget. But this will always be the case. I believe that because of that it would be quite unjust to make judgments about people who might feel aggrieved. Before I continue I would like to make one point with respect to the address by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), the previous speaker. He commented that the public debt interest estimate for 1983-84 was 22.4 per cent of the proportion of total outlays. I suggest that he would be wise to pay stricter attention to the statements accompanying the Budget because the figure is actually 7.3 per cent.

The general recognition that this is a good Budget is not really surprising. The Budget is aimed at ensuring that there is some directional change, but this has been done without placing further pressure upon an already hard pressed economy. Also, this is not a divisive Budget. This is in keeping with the philosophic stance of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), as portrayed in the decision to call the National Economic Summit Conference on assuming office. I believe that the Prime Minister deserves congratulations on that initiative. It would have been quite impossible to set in train the necessary co-operative planning projects in this nation without such a Conference. It is a very sad but a real legacy of the previous Government that the industrial climate we inherited was one of conflict, suspicion, bitterness and division. That Government's only response was to invoke punitive action upon unions. I cannot say how successful will be the thrust towards consensus. Enormous good will and the subjugation of self-interest will be required. But without commitment to this change of direction, the future of our nation will be bleak indeed.

This is a moderate Budget, yet it has received the usual predictable response from the Opposition. It is a ritualistic reaction. The Opposition has obviously felt obliged to oppose the Budget irrespective of its merits. I can understand this reaction. Leaving aside established tradition, the political characteristics of this Opposition need to be understood. It has a peculiar mix of conservative and liberal philosophies, with a heavy dose of reactionaries, opportunists and populists in its ranks. Nevertheless, the contrived posturing of horror and outrage is predictable. Some honourable members opposite have reacted with what has all the outward signs of apoplexy. They have strenuously striven to achieve a high state of hysteria. It should not come as any great surprise to us that the peak of this hysteria was reached in prime broadcasting time. Unfortunately, hamming it up has become the last line of defence of this remnant Opposition, thrashing around in a desperate bid to find a cause that might give it a credible image in the eyes of the electorate. The Opposition is still reeling, I suggest, from its electoral defeat on 5 March and more recently from the collapse of the appallingly anti-democratic coalition in Queensland.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Government would love to have brought down perhaps a different Budget; but sadly, the economic climate and the disgraceful legacy of a disastrous 1982-83 Liberal Budget deficit were facts that had to be faced. Most Australians recognise the truth of that statement. Because we are part of the world community, we stand to suffer with the rest of the world the hardship of decline in its economy. What is worse, we are not as well placed as we should be to pull ourselves out of the depression. Under the administration of conservative governments we have grown less able to cope with the necessary changes required to regain prosperity and to maintain it. For too many years we have been too dependent upon our physical resources, by way of both primary industry exports and minerals developments.

Both of these sectors are extremely important, but we have undervalued and devalued the most precious resource that we have-namely, the brain power of the nation's youth. The combination of our peculiarly Australian tendency to suspect the intellectual high flyer and to enshrine mediocrity, together with a superficial and immature approach to the question of sound economic and industrial planning, have left us poorly placed to face the ever-present threat to traditional work models and the changing technological impact upon traditional industries. We cannot afford to continue to thrash around groping for answers which we hope will enable us to maintain the mythical status quo.

I just do not believe that we have a future as a prosperous nation unless we can change our attitudes towards constitutional change, the relationship between industry and government, and the relationship between management and labour. In all, we shall require more co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth, with an emphasis upon national rather than more parochial State, sectional and regional interests, more co-operative planning between the Government and industry to facilitate more rapid change in the national interest where desirable and necessary, and the breaking down of the differences between management and labour through genuinely shared ownership of enterprises and a shared responsibility for decision-making. Unless we are determined to improve the situation in each of these areas, there is little likelihood that we shall achieve any long term prosperous future for this country.

As I said earlier, the Budget we have before us has been formulated in very difficult times. We are faced with the highest unemployment figure for half a century, we are an ageing population, and we have a rising number of other needy sections of our community. Therefore, we had no choice but to give a high priority to welfare needs. We certainly make no apology for that. In this initial Budget of the Hawke Government, we have been unable to complete all of our desired programs. In most instances we have only begun the process. The measures announced will not meet with universal approval, as I have said, but the Government deserves credit for its courage in making decisions based upon need which will be perhaps unpopular with some. The Government recognises that in some areas, such as the proposed introduction of an assets test on pensions, there will need to be a lengthy process of consultation and discussion with interested groups before it is put into place. My colleague the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) has indicated that that will be undertaken.

After years of mismanagement by timid, reactionary and crudely populist governments, it will take time to redress some of the injustices and the unfairness that have developed in our system of resource distribution. After all , the previous Government and its predecessors of like conservative disposition have been the willing collaborators with the forces of privilege in this country to contrive legislation and other measures, some achieved by default, to entrench the interests of the greedy at the expense of the welfare of the needy. Like one of those vast super-tankers, the ship of state just cannot be easily turned in another direction. People have been conditioned to accept the legitimacy of preferential treatment for the privileged wealthy. The values and aspirations of the greedy have been portrayed as virtues and held up as examples for all to own. For many the goals derived from these values are unattainable. The result is not just disappointment but a sense of failure and the development of bitterness.

There is something obscene in the normalisation of greed. Masquerading in the garb of the respectable doctrine of reward for one's efforts, greed has been used to excuse all manner of dubious activity. Even during the debate on the bottom of the harbour legislation in 1982, some members of the Liberal-National Party coalition at the time advanced the extraordinary viewpoint that it did not really matter that the perpetrators of those schemes should not be brought to account, because the money returned to circulation. Labor came to office in this climate of conservative moral turpitude.

My electorate of Ballarat has suffered seriously from the neglect of the previous Government in its seven tragic years of office. Industry confidence declined. For instance, engineering works which for decades had been a major claim to fame of Maryborough and Ballarat have had to reduce their work forces alarmingly. Most of these workers are highly skilled and some are paying off their own houses. The housing industry suffered a most serious decline in activity during this period. It is to be hoped that with the initiatives taken by the Labor Government, activity might well be regenerated in these sectors. The housing support package, as announced by the Government, should inject funds essential to a resurgence of activity. It is of significance that where such an injection of public funds into the housing industry is made, as in Victoria, the job creation potential in that industry and related industries is clearly demonstrated.

Given that official figures for unemployment in my city of Ballarat alone represent 15.05 per cent and those for Maryborough about 18 per cent, the need for these programs is surely obvious. These figures are a far cry from those indicated in the notorious Budget statement of the previous Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), in 1982-83. The grossly understated figures admitted at that time were totally cynical and dishonest. It demonstrated the depth of the moral abyss into which the Fraser Government had fallen. It is no wonder that the revulsion of the Australian community resulted in that Government's crushing defeat.

Since that Government's aura of decadence has affected the Australian people's faith in government in general, the Labor Government has been required to repair this damage. We have also had to raise the vision of government in the light of our knowledge of demographic data which show the aging state of the Australian population, the reducing work force overall, and the reducing work force in manufacturing industry in particular. We are all by now fully aware of these statistics. Some of these are well known statistics and they make startling reading. Twenty years ago there were 11 people working for each person on a pension. Today there are four people working for each person on a pension. By the year 2000 there will be an estimated 2.5 to 3 people working for each person on a pension. These are alarming figures. What is more, it is anticipated that not only will more people be receiving pensions but that they will be receiving them for much longer periods. Unless we begin now to ensure that the welfare dollar is distributed according to genuine need through the departments of Social Security, Veterans' Affairs, Housing and Construction, and Health, the nation will face a major financial crisis by the end of this century.

It is a pity that the previous Government allowed the situation to get out of hand and lacked the conviction and the courage to rectify these problems. The Government, therefore, has had to give some emphasis to this direction. As I have already said, some specific interest groups will no doubt be aggrieved because of our pressing and immediate priorities. I feel very sympathetic to the cause of many of these people, but in the face of an enormous inherited deficit situation, not all policy goals could be achieved. Certainly not all of them could be pursued even in the first year. Mr Deputy Speaker, you may recall that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) did indicate before the election that if the Budget deficit for 1982-83 turned out to be significantly higher than the then Treasurer was prepared to admit, a number of our policy promises would have to be trimmed or postponed. The dissembling or worse descended to at the time by the then Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong, is now history. The deficit blew out from $1,670m to $9,600m.

I should like to mention several measures of special significance to me which were announced in the Budget. This Budget provided special assistance to families and children. In particular, it was pleasing to see that family allowances were maintained. The Government is committed to assisting needy families. It was heartening to note that payments for children of pensioners and other social security beneficiaries will rise by 20 per cent to $12 per week for each child. This is the first such rise since 1980. The increase of $21m in the funding allocation for children's services indicates the Government's commitment to children. Children and their parents in Kyneton and Maryborough will benefit from the much needed grants for child care centres in those two communities.

The Government decision to increase allocations for emergency relief is certainly to be welcomed. The $5m currently granted for this purpose is 10 times that of the previous Government's Budget. That an extra $2m was given just before the election indicates the rather callous disregard of that Government and the use which it was prepared to make of an election. I would not be surprised if more assistance is required in this area before the year is out because of the enormous difficulty voluntary organisations are having meeting these demands. I have been approached by representatives of a number of welfare agencies in my electorate of Ballarat who have virtually exhausted their resources in the service of our needy people. The final initiative of the Government in the Budget to which I would like to refer is the spouse carer's pension. This will make it possible for men to care for their chronically needy, aged and invalid pensioner spouse. I have a considerable number of such people in my electorate so I know just how important that initiative will be.

Before I conclude my remarks I would like to mention a couple of things. The first is the Government's determination to put in place a universal health scheme. One must not let this pass. We are doing this very early in our term because of our determination to ensure that the fear of financial disaster for those who suffer from ill health does not occur. I know, and I suppose most honourable members who are concerned about their electorates would know, that under the previous Government's health scheme many people suffered enormous bills because they were not able to afford health cover. If they or members of their family had to go to hospital they found themselves suffering from enormous costs.

Mr Chynoweth —It is a shame.

Mr MILDREN —It is a shame. The job creation programs as announced under the provisions of the community employment project will save many people from disastrous long term effects of unemployment. It is interesting that members of the Opposition are so critical of these schemes. They know what they are for. We recognise that if people are out of work for extended periods they lose much of dignity and self-esteem. We also recognise that it would be marvellous to be able to create these jobs on a full time basis. That is what we are doing with our housing scheme. We are injecting money into the housing industry because we know that that creates full time jobs. It is to be hoped that all those jobs will assist the people who are currently the long term unemployed.

The Budget cleans out some of the dead wood and removes some of the injustices created by the previous Government. It also makes certain changes in provisions which point the way to the future. The future must not depend upon the continued sacrifices of the needy. Rather, it is encumbent upon all those Australians who care for social justice to limit their material aspirations and to be prepared to make sacrifices because we will be in difficult times for many years to come. We want all those people who are concerned about social justice to give their consideration to those three to four million people in the Australian community who suffer from deprivation and the invidious effects of unemployment. We ask people to be prepared to share their wealth and their privileges so that others might also gain the benefits of this great nation.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.