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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2300

Mr KEATING (Treasurer)(3.05) — Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a totally sham proposition put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), who is depicted on the front page of this week's Bulletin as riding the dead horse of the Liberal Party of Australia, trying to hold it up, while his colleague the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), sits on the sidelines and Mr Valder pumps some money into the horse. Meanwhile, the ghouls of the National Party of Australia sit beside the Liberal Party members in this House, hoping for the day of the great rapprochement between the conservative parties: The bushrangers get together with the city slickers. We see the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) pressing his wares as the proper and true Opposition Leader or our dear and trusted friend, the Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony), affectionately known as 'wheatbag' by members on this side of the House, who would also like to be Leader of the Opposition. Vying in that contest, no doubt with the events in Queensland very much in his mind and hoping against hope that the same will happen at the national level, is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, hoping that he might get the inside run on the Leader of the Opposition, who day in and day out, week in and week out fails to distinguish himself here but rather is extinguishing himself. He is burning himself out with mindless propositions like the matter of public importance he has raised today. Mr Deputy Speaker, he is more to be pitied than despised. We on this side of the House treat with complete contempt the proposals he has just put. One has really to ask oneself if indeed the Australian electorate in the years ahead will respond to an Opposition leader who has nothing to offer but simply makes sham attacks upon the policies of the Government, sees no virtue in anything the Government is doing and does not address the basic issues which face this country.

The Leader of the Opposition says that his Government would repeal the superannuation tax changes. He says he would repeal the assets test. He attacks the Government for indexing the excise base of the Commonwealth, which we know had been eroding for so long. Indeed, I find it a very curious proposition that the leader of the party which is supposedly arguing for economic prudence can be arguing that an important element of the tax base of the Commonwealth-the excise base-should diminish over time and that there should be no indexation of that base. He says that the only consequence of that, particularly in these times, would be that we would have to run much larger Budget deficits than we would hope to run in the future and that the whole problem of trying to deal with the structural Budget deficit, which is a problem not just for Australia but for other countries, would be diminished by adopting the policies expressed by him.

He attacked the Government for withdrawing the housing interest rebate. That rebate was a piece of political tomfoolery thought up by the former Prime Minister to try to save his skin at the last election. What it amounted to was the subsidisation of middle and higher income earners of mortgages on existing properties. We did abolish one rebate and we make no apologies for abolishing it . We have turned some of those funds to the first home owners scheme in order to give people who have no accommodation a roof over their heads and a chance to be able to afford a mortgage or to afford the deposit gap. One can see in recent weeks just how well the Government's housing policies are working. In fact in the housing industry the pick up in building and in home loan lending is indeed one of the encouraging signs in the economy this year.

On the matters mentioned in relation to the repeal of superannuation and the assets test, it is worth recalling a research report of the Australian Mutual Provident Society of 22 February of this year. It states:

In 1981, less than 10 per cent of the population was over 65 years, but by 2021 it is expected that around 15 per cent of our population will be in this age group.

The report continues:

Thus, while in 1981 there were seven Australians of working age to 'support' every aged person, by 2021 only 4.5 people will be in the productive age group for every aged person.

The report further states:

If account is taken of the fact that the 'normal' retiring age for women is 60 years, by 2021 there will be only 3.5 persons of working age to each retired aged person (compared with 5.5 now).

I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would indeed have been complimenting the Government on taking an initiative at this time which, over time, could come to deal with this very acute problem which will emerge in terms of supporting the retired aged people of this country and the demands which will be placed upon those who are in employment. Yet all that is brushed to one side. I do not think that anybody in business, in the professions or in academia, or the public at large, will in any way be attracted to, or remark positively on, the sorts of policies espoused by the Leader of the Opposition because there was no forethought, no longer term view, no focus in them. It was just a resort to the shabby sort of politics of attacking every initiative which the Government takes, particularly those which he thinks will earn him a few Brownie points with the electorate; a particular part of the electorate which may be peeved about one aspect of policy from time to time.

The Leader of the Opposition called into question growing community concern. Let us just analyse his charge of growing community concern. When we look at this week's Bulletin, which I have before me, we see that the latest gallup poll shows support for the Government at 52 per cent. This is 2 1/2 per cent above the result of the last election and 11 per cent above the coalition parties' support. All this concern we are hearing about, all these crocodile tears that are being shed about community concern at the Government's policies, are not being reflected in the public opinion polls. In fact, the public opinion polls are showing support for the Government's policy. People know that the Government is here for the long haul, looking at the long term policies which will matter. Indeed, the merits and the marks will go to the parties of Australia who look at the long term political problems, the long term economic issues, and try to deal with them, rather than to those who adopt the short term approach we have been hearing about from the Leader of the Opposition since he accepted the Leader of the Opposition mantle. All these claims of growing community concern are just baseless.

The Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government on taxation. He said that the Government is a high tax party. Let me just analyse people's attitudes to taxation. They also were expressed in a poll, on which there is a report in this week's Bulletin. It indicates that the proportion of people who think tax levels are unreasonable has fallen 14 per cent since August last year. Under the Liberal Government 28 per cent of people thought tax levels were reasonable. Under this Government already up to 40 per cent of people believe that tax levels are reasonable. Again, this sham and hollow concern about taxation is not borne out in the most recent test of public attitudes on this question. I submit that on the broad question of taxation policy there is a very wide acceptance of the policies which the Government has been supporting. We regard as an absolute sham the arguments which are being put up by the Leader of the Opposition about growing community concern, taxation or anything else.

The Leader of the Opposition went on-this is the greatest piece of hypocrisy of all-about our mandate. Of course, no party-in particular, no member of any party -should ever talk about mandates. But, if the Opposition wants to deal with mandates, I point out that we had a mandate to introduce bottom of the harbour legislation. What did the Opposition do with that? It defeated that legislation twice in the Senate. So the Opposition should not go on about its respect for mandates. It has no respect for them. Let us look at the former Government's record on mandates. Let us look at the 1977 tax cuts. In 1977 the former Government went to an election with a promise of tax cuts. Honourable members will remember those phoney advertisements: 'Ring up and find out how much your tax cut will be'. The Fraser Government had the most specific of all election mandates for a tax cut. It gave the tax cuts in November and took them away the following May, in 1978. So Opposition members should not talk to us about mandates. What about the crude oil levy which created the greatest growth in taxation receipts for years-the $3 1/2 billion which comes from the crude oil levy? Where was the mandate for that? I do not remember any of the phoneys opposite going to the people at the 1977 election and saying: 'We will tax petrol and we will lift receipts by $3 1/2 billion'. But, of course, they did. Honourable members opposite have no integrity whatsoever. Yet they are talking to us today about mandates.

I turn now to talk about the most important thing, the Fraser Government's receipts, the taxation levels. I want the Leader of the Opposition to listen to this. Under the Fraser Government taxation levels-that is, total Commonwealth Budget receipts-rose from 25.1 per cent of gross domestic product in 1975-76, that awful period when the Labor Government was supposed to be ripping money off everybody under the tax system, to 27.7 per cent. Yet the Leader of the Opposition has the temerity to come into this chamber and lecture me about tax. What a humbug the Leader of the Opposition is. Let us look at this Government's record. In the first Budget of the Hawke Labor Government the incidence of taxation has been reduced from 27.7 per cent to 27 per cent. On the only measure which one can apply-that is, Budget receipts measured against gross domestic product-

Mr Howard —Do not take refuge in that. Your gap is lower.

Mr KEATING —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition makes points about the GDP. The only measure that matters is Budget receipts measured against GDP. Budget receipts have fallen. So by any measure the first fall in the taxation level in five years has been achieved in this Government's first Budget. Let that be well understood: The lowest share of GDP in Budget receipts since 1980-81 has been achieved under this Government. Let us not talk about the hypocrisy of taxation, what the Opposition will do about its mandates or anything else.

Let us just look at our mandate to bring in Medicare, which will be introduced in February, the community employment program and the first home ownership assistance scheme. It does not matter where one looks, one sees that Labor governments do as they say in respect of these matters. We do what we believe is feasible and desirable. We have increased social security payments as well. The fact of the matter is that in the election campaign we had the big trick perpetrated by members of the coalition. The Budget deficit figure that they indicated we would be looking at was about $4 billion lower than we finally found it to be. We found, on coming to office, that the prospects of implementing many of the initiatives we proposed to implement were circumscribed by the disastrous economic inheritance left to us by the former Government.

One is staggered by the lack of credibility of the Leader of the Opposition, who persists in wearing himself out and wearing down what is left of his reputation in his own party and the National Party by his performance in this House, by embracing these sleazy proposals he brings in, picking up every cheap political point and not being able to get above the muck and look at the long term issues and policies which really matter. It does not matter whether one looks at opinion polls, at consumer confidence or at business confidence, one sees that interest rates are coming down, inflation is coming down and growth is under way and accelerating. Where is the evidence for the claims of the Leader of the Opposition? The fact is that there is no evidence for his claims; they are just the hollow rantings and ravings of someone whom everyone believed was a politician with great potential but whom we see in office is in fact a declining force. I am sure that the honourable member for Bennelong will let the Leader of the Opposition wear himself out on this Government while we see an upswing in the business cycle as a result of the success of the Government's policies. The honourable member for Bennelong is smart enough to make the judgment to let the honourable member for Kooyong wear himself out with these mindless proposals. He will focus in on the longer term issues.

In the meantime, the barnyard bullies, the Leader of the National Party and his deputy, will be sitting on the sidelines talking about the days when that awful proposal was started with Bruce and Page back in 1921, when Page slunk up the back steps of the Prime Minister's house to sign the dirty deal for the coalition. They are hoping for the day when they can all come back in one great conservative party and then these two gentlemen will challenge for the leadership. We absolutely reject this matter of public importance.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The Minister's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.