Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2335

Mr HOWARD(8.03) —Mr Deputy Speaker-(Quorum formed) I move:

That this House deplores the cavalier approach of the Government towards so many of its election promises.

On Friday, 2 September, the Treasurer (Mr Keating) gave a very important interview to Mr Russell Barton of the Melbourne Age. During that interview the Treasurer made a very interesting comment. I think this particular comment sums up better than most the attitude of this Government to so many of the commitments it made in the weeks that led up to the election on 5 March this year. I would like to quote the words of the Treasurer during his interview with the Melbourne Age about the subject of indirect taxation. That of itself is a fairly remarkable subject for a Labor Treasurer to be giving an interview in very lyrical terms about, considering what his predecessor, the former shadow Treasurer and present Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), who is now seated at the table, and his former Leader used to say about the undesirability of shifting the Australian taxation base towards a greater reliance on indirect tax. But I will put that aside for just a moment. I shall quote the most important thing that the Treasurer said on this occasion. I ask all honourable members to listen because this, better than anything that I could say or anything that honourable members could say, sums up the cavalier attitude of the Government. He said this:

The views I've put at Labor Party conferences were views I put with the aim of getting into government. The debate has moved on. We are now the government.

What could more cynically encapsulate the attitude of this Government than those words out of the mouth of one of its most senior members, the present Treasurer? In a totally cynical manner he said: 'Forget about what we said before we got into government, chaps. We are now in government. We have got the Treasury benches. All bets are off. Everything is back on the table and now, free of the constraints of what we promised in the lead-up to the election campaign, we can do whatever we like'. I think that comment should be coupled with those immortal words of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). I have to quote them in setting the scene for what I want to say tonight. Honourable members will remember those beautiful words of the Prime Minister in his policy speech when he said:

I believe the Australian people have had enough of election promises made only to be broken. I offer no fistful of dollars to be snatched back after the election.

Those are the great words of the Prime Minister. Having said that he then offered a fistful of dollars to 99 per cent of the Australian community. We all know what happened to that. I will come to that in a moment. I rest my opening remarks, on moving this motion, on the supreme cynicism enshrined in those remarks of the Treasurer, of how seriously the present Government of this country takes the commitments that it made before the election. Of course it has rested the whole of this catalogue of repudiated promises on two excuses which I will deal with during my remarks. I will mention a couple of matters that have not been mentioned on the subject of that debate over the last few months. The Government rested all its excuses upon alleged deceptions about sizes of deficits and the rejection by the Senate of some so-called bottom of the harbour taxation legislation.

I have mentioned the commitment made by the Prime Minister, presumably in the name of all his colleagues, in his policy speech at the Sydney Opera House. He said that he offered no fistfull of dollars, that he was not going to snatch them back as soon as he got into government, that he was going to keep the faith with the Australian people and that he was going to deliver on the promises that he made during the election campaign. But having got elected he gave reality to the words that in a moment of total candour his colleague, the Treasurer, was to mention to the Melbourne Age on 2 December. His philosophy simply was: 'You promise anything to get into government but once you are in government all bets are off and everything is back on the table'. That really has epitomised the cavalier approach taken by this Government. That is why it has problems at both ends of the spectrum. It has problems with people in middle Australia who are a bit cranky because it is dabbling with things such as a superannuation tax that it did not promise, it has broken its commitment on tax cuts, it has broken its commitments on the assets test and it has broken its commitment on the income test.

In its own ranks it also has a few problems with something called a uranium policy, on which it has tried to be all things to all men. On the one hand it has offered something that is supposed to placate its business supporters and on the other hand it is offering something that is ambiguous to try to seduce the support of its left wing. Those chickens are coming home to roost right at the moment.

We know the tension that is going on inside this building within the ranks of the Government at the present time on the matter of uranium. That is a legacy of the sort of deception and misleading that went on and the being all things to all men that the Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party endeavoured to be in the weeks leading up to the election campaign. Those chickens are coming home to roost. That is not a problem for us, that is not a problem for middle Australia; that is a problem for the dyed-in-the-wool left wing supporters of the Australian Labor Party who thought that they had a policy at that national conference. They adopted a policy on uranium.

There are smart-Alicks in the Party such as the Treasurer, who has said: 'You say anything you like at party conferences in order to get in but, once you have got there, all bets are off and everything is back on the table'. Those people offered a uranium policy that they thought they could bend and twist and make malleable according to whatever the need is.

Mr Steedman —What's your uranium policy?

Mr HOWARD —Of course the time is now running out, as the honourable member for Casey knows. He does not like what has happened on the uranium policy. He thought it was malleable enough to satisfy his left wing. I wonder what the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) is thinking about the malleability of that uranium policy at the present time? We would all love to be flies on the wall. Why do not honourable members opposite invite us to join them ? We will give the Prime Minister the numbers if we are asked along on Monday. We will help him out. We would be delighted to come along and help the Prime Minister. For once I could find myself totally on side with the Prime Minister of Australia and Leader of the Labor Party. I would love to support his position on uranium. I reckon all my colleagues would be very happy to go along the vote for the Prime Minister he needs a bit of stiffening on the subject because his position is not nearly good enough, but it is a darn sight better than the sort of policy than the honourable member for Casey (Mr Steedman) and his colleagues want to impose on him.

That illustrates what trouble one can get into when one tries to be all things to all men in an election campaign. That is exactly what Mr Hawke tried to do. That is exactly what he was trying to do when he promised immediate tax reductions for almost six million Australians. That is what he wanted to be when he said that he was not going to impose any tax on lump sum superannuation payments. The remarkable thing about that commitment-it is relevant to all the charges about deception with regard to deficits-is that he made it not only before the election but also after the election. If all these terrible repudiations of commitments were due to the terrible things that I and other people said about the deficit, why did he repeat all those things after the election when he had all the information in front of him? Why did he mislead brother Barry Unsworth? Why did he mislead all the other senior officials of the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement at the National Economic Summit Conference, when he said: 'Do not worry, fellows. She's right. We will not do anything about that lump sum superannuation'? Of course, all the time he intended to repudiate that commitment. He said that he would maintain the home loan interest rebate. All the fellows opposite who represent those marginal, high mortgage seats and who campaigned on that issue before 5 March said in good faith: 'Do not worry. We will keep this terrific home loan interest rebate that the former Government brought in'. Within a matter of weeks that too was lying on the floor.

The Prime Minister said that he would keep the health insurance rebate until the introduction of Medicare. He said that there would be no means testing of pensions for the over-70s. He said that he would not introduce an assets test. His colleague the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) said that he would abolish that pharmaceutical declaration form, but he has not done so. We all remember seeing those chemists waving bits of paper from somebody. They probably came from the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) who was pretty terrific before the election in sending out telegrams on behalf of the Leader of the Labor Party promising that all sorts of things would not happen. However, the Minister for Health said that that form was going to be abolished. I can remember attending a meeting in the electorate of Casey. I should have gone there twice and we might have kept the honourable member for Casey out. His colleague Senator Giles and I were on the same platform and we were asked by the gathering about the spouse rebate. She said: 'The Labor Party believes in the spouse rebate. We are going to increase it because Mr Hawke said so in the election policy speech'. That was another of the commitments. Far from increasing it, almost half the Labor Party was trying to get rid of it. We all know the sort of battling that went on before the Budget on that issue.

We all know how much the Government fell short of a number of the commitments it made to primary producers. We know of the inadequacy of its response with regard to compensation for the Franklin Dam. We know about its failed commitement to reduce the price of petrol by 3c a litre. We know about its failed commitment to reduce charges for private patients in public hospitals by $60 a day. We know about its commitment that there would be no more job losses in the steel industry. One of the few areas in which the Government has been able to chalk up a success is a reduction in the rate of inflation. Everybody knows that that is due substantially to effects of the recession and the continuing beneficial effects of the wages pause, a wages pause which was totally opposed by the Australian Party in this chamber when it was introduced by the former Government.

We need not look at only those failed promises I have mentioned. We can talk about that promise to lift the tax threshold to $5,893 for pensioners. I wonder how many people remember that promise. The policy speech was fine. The rhetoric of the policy speech was: 'It is all very serious and it is difficult, and we cannot promise you a great deal, but in case you are not prepared to take our word for that, we will promise you a whole lot'. Six million Australians, or 99 per cent of the Australian community, were promised immediate taxation cuts. This Government, eight months old, stands condemned as a government with a cavalier approach to election promises. This Government has adopted the dictum of the Treasurer in that famous interview reported in the Melbourne Age of which honourable members will hear a lot in the months and years to come. On 2 September he said:

The views I put at Labor Party conferences were views I put with the aim of getting into government. The debate has now moved on. We are now the Government.

In other words, he said: 'Forget about what we said before the election campaign . We are now in power and what matters is what we do in power. Having successfully conned the electorate and having conned our way into office, we are here and we are going to make the best of it'.

Of course, one of the two great excuses of the Government is the alleged deficit. Members of the Labor Party paraded around Australia saying: 'Had Howard and Fraser, the former Treasurer and Prime Minister, continued in government we would have had a deficit of $9.6 billion'. That is what they all said. Honourable members opposite are all nodding their heads as if to say: 'Yes, that is exactly what we said'. It was very strange that that should be said, because in an interview recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald in July, when he was under attack for being too much under the influence of the Treasury, and when he was defending himself against the charge that $8.5 billion was too contractionary a deficit, the Treasurer said: 'Don't you believe it. I had a real fight with Treasury over that. Had Howard still been Treasurer, the deficit next year would have been $6.5 billion'. They are the words of the Treasurer. They are not my words.

Of course, his forecast was borne out on 23 August when he presented the Budget in this Parliament. He wrung his hands and said: 'I have had a terrible struggle with this wicked fiscal inheritance that you people have left me with. After much blood, tears, toil and sweat we have had to take $1,200m out of your profligate spending proposals, but we have put $2,500m-worth of new ones in. It has been so hard that we have had to put $2,500m back in'. Marvel of marvels, if one takes $2.5 billion away from $8.4 billion, one gets $6 billion-precisely the figure which honourable members opposite claim was used so often during the election campaign but which was actually used only twice. Those word used by the Treasurer in that interview, when he was defending himself against attacks from his own left wing for being under the thumb of the Treasury, when the $8.4 billion was really tough and contractionary and when Howard would have had a deficit of $6.5 billion, and the figures in his own Budget of 23 August demonstrate how completely phoney and false is the constant excuse, resurrected again by the Prime Minister during the Moreton by-election campaign, for why the Government has broken so many of the promises on which it was elected on 5 March . They demonstrate once again the versatility of the integrity of the commitments made by the leader of this Government and the leader of the Australian Labor Party at present.

The second great excuse is the claim that the Senate and the Opposition parties in some way have acted in an inconsistent manner in voting against certain taxation legislation. On three occasions as a government last year and twice as an Opposition this year we have voted against the so-called bottom of the harbour taxation proposals put forward by the Australian Labor Party. They are not proposals to recoup unpaid tax. They are proposals to impose a totally new, totally selective, totally discriminatory and totally penal taxation liability on a group of people who already are being forced to meet their taxation liabilities under legislation passed by the former Government. No amount of confusion and no amount of misleading of the Australian people will alter the fact that that legislation cannot be correctly described as recoupment legislation. It is totally indefensible, unjustifiable, penal legislation, and ought properly to be rejected by this Parliament and has properly been rejected by this Parliament. What we voted against twice this year is what we voted against last year because everything that the Government has put up this year was put up as an amendment to the legislation that we put forward to the Parliamant last year. So we have a situation on the eve of a very important by- election, eight months after the Government's election on 5 March. Of course, all by-elections are important. Honourable members opposite know that as well as I do.

This is an important by-election, a very important by-election, and on the eve of it this is a good opportunity not only for the people in this Parliament but also for some of the electors of Moreton to take stock of what this Government has really done. It is a good opportunity for the people of Moreton to remember the expectations raised by the election of the Hawke Government. It is a good idea for honourable members opposite to remember what was promised and what has not been delivered. It is a good idea for them to remember the failed leadership of a Prime Minister who, if he had used his undoubted authority as a newly elected Prime Minister, may have been able to do something substantial about the jobless of Australia if he had continued the wage pause.

It is a good idea to remember that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations who is sitting at the table and who will reply on behalf of the Government has, over the last few days, torpedoed the prices and incomes policy of his own government. The support that the Government has given to that building agreement cannot seriously be reconciled with a continuation of the prices and incomes accord. There may be calm, there may be peace, there may be reconciliation for a few months, but every person who understands the Australian economy knows only too well that sooner or later pressure is going to build up, that the lid is going to blow through on the wages policy in Australia.

I am prepared to predict now that at the end of the Government's first term in office there will have been no significant reduction in the level of unemployment in Australia. There is a very serious probability that at the end of the Government's first term unemployment in Australia will be higher than it was when it took over. The Government will have only itself to blame for that because it had the opportunity, good will, capacity and support of the Australian business community in a way in which the trade union movement was not prepared to support some of the efforts of the former Government. If that is the Government's indictment and its epitaph at the end of its first year in office it will be its fault and its fault alone and people will then have a further opportunity to reflect upon the extent to which this Government has adopted a totally indefensible and totally cavalier approach to its election promises.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) -Order! Is the motion seconded?

Mr Hawker —Yes, I second the motion and I reserve my right to speak.