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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2339

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(8.25) — The 20 minutes we have just heard from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) was a pathetic effort to attack the Government before the Moreton by- election. During that 20 minutes he said that the Government had a problem. I would say that it is the Opposition that has the problem. If we look at the latest polls in the Bulletin we see 52 per cent in favour of the Australian Labor Party and for the Government, and 41 per cent for the Opposition. I think in those circumstances with our standing being 2 1/2 per cent above what it was at the last election, we are not the ones with the problem. The Opposition is the one with the problem, particularly the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) who is trying hard to smile and look comfortable. He is the one with the real problem. He is the one with his back to the wall. He is the one who will go under with the fellow sitting next to him, the honourable member for Bennelong ( Mr Howard) chopping his support away day by day. I must say in the last 20 minutes he has not done much to improve his standing in this place.

One of the remarkable aspects of this Opposition is its extraordinary effrontery to come before this House after this Government has been in office for a little over seven months and accuse it of cavalier attitudes, of broken promises. Given its record as a government, a government of this country for over seven years, one sees that during that time there was an unparalleled list of broken promises, a period of broken promises which staggers the imagination if one tries to add up all the broken promises which occurred at that time. After seven months in office Opposition members come into this Parliament and accuse this Government of breaking its promises. Let me say that I think the previous Government's record could do with a little bit of re-examination. If we look at its record and just pick out a few of the major items we can see the extraordinary nature of the broken promises which occurred when the Fraser Government was in office. It is indeed appropriate that the man who seconds this motion tonight, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker), is the successor to the previous leader of the Government. It is highly appropriate that the honourable member for Wannon should speak on an issue like this because it appears that the people for Wannon know a tremendous amount about broken promises.

Let me go to a few of the extraordinary broken promises of the Fraser Government. In 1975 the Government said that a growth rate of 6 per cent to 7 per cent would be quite feasible. In fact, it achieved a rate of 2.7 per cent. In regard to wages it said: 'We will support wage indexation'. Of course, as soon as it came into office it sought to destroy the system of wage indexation. In the very first case it opposed full wage indexation. It said it would put an end to government extravagances and excesses. In fact, up to 1982 it spent over $12m on oveseas trips, $40m on two jets, $250,000 on renovations to the Lodge and $2m for upgraded television facilities in Wannon. The previous Prime Minister said: 'There will be no international safaris'. In fact, the previous Prime Minister made 28 overseas trips, a staggering record for an Australian Prime Minister.

In regard to youth, the previous Government said that it would ensure that young people were given the opportunity to gain employment. It said that in 1980 . In fact, as we know, in the period that it was in office youth unemployment went from 4 per cent to 20 per cent. In 1977 it said that unemployment would fall from February and keep falling. In fact, unemployment doubled while the Fraser Government was in office. In regard to the unemployed, it said: 'We will be generous to those who cannot get a job and want to work'. In fact, it reduced the under-18 unemployment benefit over the seven years by about 71 per cent in real terms. The unemployment benefit for single adults was reduced by 27 per cent in real terms. In regard to taxes the Government said: 'We will clamp down on tax avoidance'. In fact, the number of identified tax avoiders rose by a staggering 2,500 per cent in the period from 1975-76 to 1980-81. This was an extraordinary explosion of tax avoidance which took place under the previous Government. From 1975-76 to 1981-82 taxes for ordinary wage and salary earners increased by 148 per cent whilst incomes of those people rose by 98 per cent. So there was a very substantial increase in the tax burden despite the fact that the Government in 1975 said: 'We will reduce the tax burden'.

Of course, we all recall that in 1979 its double take on its taxation promises led to the incredible headline in the Illawarra paper of: 'Lies, lies, lies'. That headline epitomised the extraordinary record which the previous Government had on broken promises and particularly so in the area of taxation which was the responsibility of the man who has moved the general business item here tonight, the honourable member for Bennelong. In regard to government, it said that it would restore integrity to public administration. In fact there were 22 resignations, sackings and suspensions from the Ministry. In regard to interest rates, it said in 1977 that a 2 per cent reduction would be achieved in the next 12 months-can and will be achieved. Of course, as we know, interest rates increased to the highest on record.

In regard to Aborigines it said: 'We will maintain present levels of assistance to the Aborigines'. This was said in 1975. What did it do when in government? In the next seven years it reduced real expenditure on Aboriginal programs by 36 per cent. It said: 'We will maintain Medibank Private and ensure that the standards of health services in this country do not decline'. In fact, it dismantled Medibank and increased the cost of health care dramatically especially for low income families. That is a quick run through of a few of the extraordinary lists of broken promises of which the previous Government was guilty. Yet Opposition members come in here attacking this Government for not fulfilling its promises and we have only been in office for a little over seven months. They talk about cavalier attitudes.

The previous Prime Minister said on 1 May 1981: 'When you go into an election with a commitment in 1980 I think it's nonsense to suggest that a commitment made in 1975 on the same subject overrides the one made five years later'. So we know what the attitude of honourable members opposite was. They believed that if they failed to honour one of their promises in their first five years in government they did not have to honour it. Their attitude was: 'You simply replace your promises as you go'. That is an extraordinary cavalier attitude. I think it is quite clear from that quick run through of the record that the previous Government, the now Opposition, has no basis of credibility for attacking anyone about broken promises. Honourable members opposite are the experts. They have it on the record. Over seven years and a bit they showed that they were the masters in regard to broken promises.

I turn to the process under this Government. We have been in office for a little over seven months and during that time we have achieved a tremendous amount. If the people in Moreton wish on Saturday to reflect on who they should elect, they will certainly reflect on the tremendous turnaround in this economy in the period in which we have been in government. We inherited an economy which was in very bad shape. If we look at some of the major indicators of the economy we see that things are dramatically improving. In the 12 months prior to Labor taking office there was a reduction in employment of 124,000. In the period since, employment has gone up by 80,000. We are certainly on track for the promise that we made to achieve 500,000 jobs in a full three years. I believe that we will be able to achieve that promise. We are taking action to ensure that that is the case not simply by reviving the economy but also by introducing such programs as the community employment program, which this year will create 40,000 jobs and in a full year 70,000 jobs. So employment is certainly on the move. We have turned the whole situation around from an enormous decline in employment to a substantial recovery in employment.

Inflation is another extraordinarily important economic indicator, and inflation is falling. Now for the first time in ages the inflation rate is below double figures, down to 9.2 per cent. This Government's policies are now bearing fruit in that regard, and our forecasts are that the inflation level will come down further. We expect that in the course of this financial year the consumer price index will increase by around 5 1/2 per cent. That is the sort of figure we will be looking at in the course of this financial year. It is quite clear that the inflation rate will fall very considerably in the future under this Government's policies.

Interest rates are falling at a rate of knots. It seems that almost every day we see a further indicator of declining interest rates. Only today we have seen a further reduction in the Australian Savings Bond rate and a further reduction in home loan interest rates for people borrowing from the Commonwealth Bank and the State Bank. Those reductions in home loan interest rates are, of course, extremely important for home buyers. A person with a $30,000 loan over 25 years will now save $22 a month because of those reductions. We expect that if the trend continues-we believe that it will-further savings will be made following further declines in interest rates. I believe that in those three important key areas of employment, inflation and interest rates the economy is clearly moving in the right direction, demonstrating how important this Government's policies are.

Of course, interest rates are relevant to living standards, but so too is the level of wages. The wages policy of this Government has now given wage and salary earners a guarantee of maintenance of their real level of wages and an end to the process of decline in their real wage which the previous Government had set in train. That policy is thoroughly responsible economically and it will fit in with recovery in this economy, a growth in the economy this year of 5 to 6 per cent. Associated with that will be an increase in employment, becoming even stronger in the subsequent year, and declining inflation.

It was another basic promise of this Government to introduce the Medicare system, a restoration of the universal health insurance cover which was destroyed by the previous Government. That will come into effect in February of next year and will reduce the cost of health insurance by an average of $10 per week. That is an extremely important development. It is important in the sense of what it will save individual people and it is important in the sense of providing a cover to all people and not allowing some millions of people, as is presently the case, to take the enormous risk of having no health insurance cover whatever. I believe that tremendously important developments are now in train in relation to the state of the economy and the living standards of the Australian people. The disastrous path on which the economy and the nation were headed when we took office has been turned around. Living standards are now being retained and improved and the economy is being turned back into an upward phase.

The Leader of the Opposition said that we have not carried out all our promises , and of course he is right. We have not carried them all out yet, but give us time. We have been able to do less than we wanted to do because of the situation we inherited, particularly in relation to the deficit. Of course, the previous Treasurer, the now Deputy Leader of the Opposition, does not like my saying this , but it is a fact that when he was the Treasurer he said during the election campaign that we would be looking at a deficit of $6 billion. As soon as we came to office we found that it was $9.6 billion, an extraordinarily high level. He stands condemned for misleading the Australian people, for giving the Australian people figures which were completely at odds with the advice he must have been getting.

Mr Howard —Why did Keating say $6.5 billion?

Mr WILLIS —I will get back to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's $6.5 billion in a moment. The previous Treasurer is guilty of completely misleading the Australian people. Of course, when we took office and found that the deficit was $9.6 billion we were forced to trim our sails somewhat. We have done less than we wanted to to in various areas; we make no bones about that. We were forced to do less than we wanted by the Budget situation we inherited, which was much more disastrous than the previous Treasurer had ever let on to the Australian nation.

Mr Howard —Well, you admit that I would have had $6.5 billion. He asks about the $6.5 billion he would have had.

Mr WILLIS —Well, if that is his figure he can live with it. He would have achieved a figure of $6.5 billion only by increasing taxes by another $2 billion or cutting expenditure by another $2 billion. I ask him to tell us what taxes he would have increased by $2 billion. I ask him to tell us what expenditure cuts he would have made to get the Budget deficit down by another $2 billion. There is no doubt that had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition remained in Government as the Treasurer of this nation he would now have been bringing us to a disastrous state. If he was increasing taxes by $2 billion or cutting expenditure by $2 billion he would be further massively increasing unemployment and sending this economy further into the disastrous spiral into which he put it in his years as Treasurer. I believe that this nation would be in an incredibly bad state if he had had his way with it.

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