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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 234

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - The Liberal Party in Opposition will follow a positive course. We will not merely oppose. We will put forward alternatives. We will try to improve legislation as it comes before the House. We will be cooperative in the conduct of the business of the House and expect co-operation to be accorded to us. We will acknowledge the Government's positive and beneficial actions when they occur. We will oppose those policies and actions of the Government which we believe are not in the interests of the people. Our opposition will be selective. Where necessary it will be uncompromising and unrelenting. Our scrutiny will be detailed and thorough. We will react decisively as we have done already to policies which buy domestic political peace at the price of national interest. We believe the interests of this nation will be best served by our developing our role as an alternative government. As time progresses we wish not only to show that the governing Party is inadequate but to prove ourselves better. In pursuit of that course I have since my appointment as Parliamentary Leader given priority to the all important task of building an opposition structure which will fit us for government. We have promised Australians that we will re-examine our policies and rebuild them on the basis of Liberal philosophy, superior as it is, to socialism.

We are organised to receive the benefit of the best minds in this community from commerce, from industry, the universities and other tertiary and specialist areas to assist us with our policy development. We are reestablishing the bridges to all sectors of the community. The organisational wing of the Liberal Party, the branch members, the women's sections and the Young Liberal movement will have a greater role in policy advising. I emphasise 'advising'. It is abhorrent to our Party as it must be to all concerned Australians, and members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, too, if they made known what was really in their minds, that no group should have the power of direction over the people's elected representatives in this Parliament. We have achieved a close working relationship with the Australian Country Party. In spite of attempts to dramatise and exaggerate the difficulties we are different parties. We have differences of emphasis and approach. But we are basically agreed on what is good for this country and we will work for that day when we again establish a coalition in government. My duty will be to pit the Opposition against the Government and 1 will not be distracted from that task.

In 1972 by capturing some middle ground the Australian Labor Party won the right to govern. It achieved this by the development of some new policies but largely it was by the manipulation of symbols and the exploitation of that community feeling that democracies are best served by giving the other party a go. The ALP won a mandate to govern. But to suggest, as the Government does in the Speech of the Governor-General, that all their statements are endorsed - in fact demanded - by some sort of mystical will of the people is unreal and nonsensical. To write so grandly that 'delay would mean damage to the nation or unwarranted neglect of the people's wishes and mandate' or to refer to the program the people have instructed them to implement is pompous self delusion. Some Australians were convinced by the brave words of Labor. Now they will judge the Government by results as they earlier judged the parties by their promises. Already there is tension of an extreme degree in the Government.

I am surprised that the ALP would want to raise before people's minds; however erroneously, as it did in the Governor-General's Speech, the relationship between the people and the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in this House last week in the first question he answered as Prime Minister unqualifiedly acknowledged his Government's and his own subservience in policy matters to the Party machine. Today his Deputy, the Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply (Mr Barnard) disagreed with him publicly in this House. With a boldness born of his current despair the. honourable gentleman said that he cared not for the opinions of the machine. That was an aberration he will regret and, I forecast, he will correct. We know the community will be ignored by the Labor Government. It is not the people instructing the ALP, it is the machine. If the machine says 'destroy alliances with our friends' the Government must destroy them. The Government has acknowledged that. So much for the democratic theory of the socialist party. What a mockery of the assertion in the ALP policy speech that it has as a great aim 'to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land'.

Government supporters know that the decisions will be taken in Surfers Paradise in July. They have acknowledged it through the voice of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) of this country. The Labor Party promised greater participation in decision taking - more democracy. Then it set up a 2- man government of a kind this country has never seen and does not want to see again. The Prime Minister held 14 portfolios and the Deputy Prime Minister held 13 portfolios.

The only thing that can be said of it is that giving the Prime Minister more portfolios than the Deputy Prime Minister had a nice sense of propriety as between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. It was said at the time that often they conducted their Cabinet meetings whilst walking across the lake to Parliament House. It soon became apparent by later difficulties when a Cabinet was formed - and the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) who is seated at the table will be well aware of this - that the reasons for the plethora of decisions at that time was to prevent Cabinet involvement in taking decisions. That was the only reason they were taken. It had nothing to do with urgency of policies or mandates or anything else. It was the purpose of the Prime. Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to deprive those people who they thought would oppose them from the opportunity to do so. The relationship between the Prime Minister and the rest of his Party was rather like the relationship between the farmer and the turkey until Christmas time. Government supporters promised equality of treatment for all Australians. Then they set about the most prejudiced and biased pursuit of trade union interests at the expense of other groups and the community at large. Their fine words about conscience and personal freedom were believed by many when they talked about compulsory military service. Now, in blindness to personal freedom and individuality, they force by abuse of their economic power compulsory union service for their low purpose of rewarding their political power base.

Government supporters talked about cooperation with private enterprise, yet they hand out discriminate economic rewards and penalities according to such criterion as capitulation to trade union demands. They talked about eliminating industrial conflict, yet they enter the arena themselves totally committed to one side, and there has been no diminution of the strike rate since they entered into government. They promised good government, yet great decisions, such as that on currency, are taken after a telephone chat between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Crean), without even consulting relevant senior Ministers. The relevant Ministers made it clear that they objected to not being consulted. But then the denouement came. The Treasurer made it clear that no decision was taken at all. The fact that our currency appreciated by 10 per cent against the United States currency was represented as being no decision at all. How does that relate to the promise of good government? They promised good government, yet they are spending us into a huge deficit with apparent unconcern about the impact on economic management and the principles of public finance.

The Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns), seeing an incapacity to fulfil promises, has resorted to the incredible claim that it is all the economy's fault. He is the only person in Australia who holds that view. Government supporters promised control of inflation, yet for political reasons they attack the problem with one arm tied behind their back. That arm tied behind their back is the one concerned with costs. Many countries have had incomes-prices policies. This Government is unique in world history in believing that a prices policy alone will suffice. It does this in its eagerness to pamper its power base - the trade unions and their powerful leaders.

The Government promised us the maintenance of our alliances. The offensive statements of 3 senior Ministers - the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) and the Minister for Overseas Trade - and the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have imposed totally unnecessary strains upon our alliances and our friendships. We were to play a great role in the region. Under the Liberal Government, Australia was respected for its reliability, sophistication and wisdom. Now the Prime Minister dreams of being a home grown De Gaulle. He was ever so delicately rebuffed in Indonesia. The Indonesians were not willing to see the influence of the People's Republic of China extending so rapidly into our region. The Government promised to reduce uncertainty, yet it continues to be uncertain over currency. People do not know where the country is going. Firms cannot plan in relation to export incentives. What about interest rates and taxation measures? Some people in Government predict a degree of economic stimulus. It is like an exciting episode from Blue Hills'. Will the Treasurer or the Minister for Overseas Trade win in the next exciting episode? Who will win that battle? What is the role of Dr Coombs? Who is the Prime Minister's economic adviser - the Treasurer, the Treasury, Dr Cairns or Dr Coombs? The Government is creating uncertainty and is uncaring about the effects of that uncertainty.

The Governor-General's Speech promised basic changes in the administration and structure of Australian society in the lifetime of this Parliament. There are reforms to be achieved and changes to be made. Our society is dynamic and works its own changes at a pace which enables adjustment and prevents conflict. We want change to meet changing circumstances, changing needs. Governments must provide leadership, but we reject the aim of basic changes in the structure of Australian society over 3 years, especially when the Government has used only airy-fairy words and has not told us the nature of the changes and what it is the Government wishes to change. It has not described the process. Are basic changes in administration to mean the overthrow of the Public Service or an assault on the banking or insurance systems to which the Government is pledged in the Platform, Constitution and Rules agreed to at Launceston and to which the Prime Minister said unqualifiedly that he was bound in policy terms? Is it to mean an assault on the insurance, banking and legal systems, the society or the marriage institution? What is this attack that will change our social system so fundamentally and basically? We have been very well served by our institutions. We want them adapted, not overthrown.

The Governor-General's Speech rhetorically urged a more tolerant, more open, more humane, more equal and more diverse society. We were not given clues as to the meanings of those words. We suspect they are empty words. What does tolerance mean in this context? What does equality mean? Does it mean massive enforced equality or does it mean equality of opportunity? If it means the latter, we agree; if it means the former, we will oppose it to the bitter end. What does diversity mean? Are we to polarise our society with a basic change? Do we import diversity into Australia? It would be a national penance to force diversity on this remarkably integrated nation. The Governor-General's Speech said of existing social and economic structures that there is a 'clear failure'. These institutions have served Australia well. They must be capable of examination and improvement but clearly they have not failed. They must be defended as well as criticised.

The Speech referred to the primary importance attached to relations with Indonesia and the nations of the South Pacific. The term primary importance' is a misstatement. To use the term 'primary' is to misunderstand Australia's national objectives, its future path and the welfare of the Australian people. Relations with our immediate neighbours in the region are an absolute, just as it is an absolute to honour our treaty commitments and just as it is an absolute to sustain and maintain our alliances. There can be no priority as between absolutes. The Government has been prepared to allow relationships with traditional allies - the United Kingdom and the United States of America - to atrophy by placing its primary importance on the neutrality in South East Asia which will - I quote from the Speech - 'involve the phasing out of present military arrangements such as the Five Power Arrangements'. The GovernorGeneral's Speech totally ignores ANZUS. What are claimed as new and momentus directions may point nowhere in the end. Achieving the zone of peace is not even within Australia's power. We will not even be invited to join ASEAN. It is that group of nations which is responsible for the proposition and for carrying it through if it is to be achieved. We will not be there. At the same time as we stand off to watch that happen and rely on it, we allow our traditional alliances to atrophy. We allow senior Ministers to hurl abuse at our great ally and its great President.

We are told that the Government will move with all due speed to create an independent, united Papua New Guinea, lt can insist on the country's independence but not on its unity. The objectives may very well be in opposition the one to the other. They may be inconsistent. A government may mouth the words: 'We will shed you. You must be independent', but it will not achieve unity for that new country. The timetable for self-government is fixed but not the timetable for independence. That is clearly a matter for the people of the country to decide for themselves.

A cities commission is to replace the National Urban and Regional Development Authority. This seems a very myopic approach to regional development. We are not interested only in cities. Regional development is apparently to be the exclusive preserve of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and his newly formed Department. But let me make this clear in everybody's minds: Centralism is no substitute for co-operative federalism. We will support the Government if it tackles our problems with reality and practical determination. We will support its spending plans if it accounts for the economic impact of its spending and sets priorities. We will support its foreign policy if it is objective, if it is careful for national interests and if it accounts for the consensus of the Australian people. We will support the Government if it intends co-operation and not coercion in relation to the States and in relation to private enterprise. We will support the Government if it governs as elected representatives of the people and rejects the influence of its all-powerful machine.

I paraphrase with some modifications the words of my predecessor in the office of Leader of the Opposition: 'My fellow citizens, I put these questions to you. Can we afford another 3 years like the last 3 months? Are we prepared to maintain at the head of our affairs a coalition of factions which has lurched into crisis after crisis, embarrassment piled on embarrassment week after week?' The Federal President of the Australian Labor Party yesterday had to send telegrams to people who he denies are different from other members of the Party saying: 'Be quiet. Wait till we get to Surfers Paradise in July; then we will fix it all, chaps. You can have your say then. Then we will tell the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister what to do'. The former Leader of the Opposition also said: 'Can we accept another 3 years of waiting for next week's crisis, next week's blunder?' What prophetic words they were when they were spoken. Who could have understood those words of the Leader of the Opposition to be a description of his own Party? He never foresaw it himself, but prophetic those words were and the situation which he described is exactly that which fits the Government. We will work as an Opposition to correct this situation at the first possible opportunity.

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