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Wednesday, 25 September 1974
Page: 1409

Senator MARTIN (Queensland) - Thank you, Mr Deputy President. As I rise to speak for the first time in the Senate, I preface my remarks by thanking the President of the Senate and my Senate colleagues for the warm assistance I have received in my short period in the Senate. Also I congratulate other new honourable senators who have already made their maiden speeches. Those who are yet to come, my warmest felicitations and fellow feelings, particularly at this moment.

We are debating a very important document, the Budget, which sets the economic and social climate of this country, certainly for the next year and probably for a much longer time to come. I open my speech by quoting, lamentably, from a speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) last weekend in which he commented on the Budget. He stated:

I have long held the view that the Budget is not just an economic document but a declaration of the Government 's view of the kind of society we want and the kind of people we are. That is what our Budget was about. Nothing we have done has so clearly demonstrated, so clearly symbolised, this Government's philosophy and concerns, its priorities and aspirations.

I suggest to you, Mr Deputy President and fellow senators, that this Budget is condemned in the words of the Prime Minister.

Three very important reflections can be made on this Budget. It will regulate the life style of Australians in the foreseeable future. It shows the Government's assessment of the nature of our society. It is a reflection of the political philosophy of this Government. I suggest that, for all the fine words we have heard from the other side, the truth of the Budget lies under its surface. My leader tonight and my leader in the other place last night revealed some of these truths. It is important that these truths be emphasised and brought forward to the Australian people because in the last 20 months we have had many instances of the Australian Labor Party going to the people and claiming many grand and fine things, but underneath it all the truth lurks. This is not what they talk about.

We live in a young country, a country with a very young average age; and we live in a unique country. This Budget will affect Australia's expectations for some time to come, as it affects them almost immediately. Never in my recollection and never during my participation in politics in Australia- and it has spread over some years now- can I recall such anticipation of a Budget. For weeks beforehand, indeed months beforehand, there was a very keen public debate on what might or might not be in the Budget. Not with any great sense of glee or looking forward but with a sense of foreboding, because Australians sensed that their way of life was threatened, that their expectations were at risk.

We have always prided ourselves in this country, regardless of our actual economic standards as we have progressed, on an independence of spirit within the national and economic framework. In the postwar years we have seen in this country great economic growth in which all citizens have participated. At the same time, the Australian has been a tolerant person who has wanted to see social justice. He has a good strong social conscience, and as our economy has grown, as our nation has grown, so we have been able to give greater effect to our social conscience. We have several standards supposed in the Budget. We have several new aspirations, I believe, in this country now.

In recent times we have seen the enormous growth of our large cities at the expense of the country areas. We have seen the enormous growth of ratio of population in our cities to ratio of population in the country. This has been to some extent inevitable, but I think Australians now aspire to a way of life with a realisation of the benefits of the smaller community. I would like to refer to a section in the Appropriation Bill (No. 1). On page 1338 of Hansard for the House of Representatives of 17 September this statement appears:

The assistance to be provided in 1974-75 carries forward in a very substantial way the Government's major initiatives to redirect over the longer term the distribution of employment opportunities and hence of population. The growth centres program aims to raise the amenity of urban life by encouraging the rapid development of a small number of regional growth centres to provide viable alternatives to the existing metropolitan centres . . .

This issue of decentralisation and diversion of resources for the purpose of building up these smaller metropolitan centres is one that is very important to me as a senator from Queensland. Queensland has long prided itself on being the most decentralised State of all the States of Australia. We have long prided ourselves on the fact that the proportion of our total population which resides in our capital city is the smallest as compared with capital city population against total State population in all the other States of Australia. But we have learnt some very strong and some very important lessons along the way, and it appears that the people of Queensland and the people of Australia are about to suffer in the same way while this Government learns the same lessons.

It is only 3 years since the drought broke in Queensland. Before that we had a 16-year drought in which our primary industries suffered.

Many struggled on valiantly with government assistance, or without it in some instances. But it is not the issue of the actual primary producer to which I wish to refer. The fact is that when the primary producer suffered, as he did over an extensive period during that extraordinary drought in Queensland, the people in our provincial cities learnt the cost of a depressed rural sector. They learnt that the welfare of those provincial cities, the welfare of the individual, the welfare of the whole State and ultimately, because we are part of the Australian nation, the collective welfare of the Australian nation, are inextricably bound up with the welfare of the rural sector. We are seeing a significant decline throughout the provincial cities in Queensland today in terms of rising umemployment and the expectations of life in those cities.

I note in a Press release put out by the Minister for Labor and Immigration today that a large number of Queensland's provincial cities are among those listed for special assistance because of their high rates of unemployment. The only notable provincial cities which were not listed were Mount Isa, Rockhampton and Gladstone. All the other provincial cities from Cairns down to the Gold Coast and inland too were listed. There is a lesson in this for the Australian Government, and it would do well to take heed. It would do well to back off from its policy of victimising the rural producer, of trying to stir feeling in the urban centres against those who live in the country. It is totally unjust, and it is a disastrous policy.

I referred earlier to the fact that I believe that Australians believe in social fairness and social justice, that they are basically a tolerant nation, but over the last 20 months, and particularly latterly, we have seen an alarming divisiveness grow in our society. All of us, of all political shades represented in this Parliament, must be alarmed at the growth of militancy throughout the Australian community. We must all deplore it and we must all fear the consequences if it is allowed to get out of hand. But it is not surprising, because this Government has chosen to ignore the fact that we have sections which are interdependent. With our highest ever standard of education in this country, the Government has chosen to play on what it believes to be a great mass ignorance and to play on lower elements in human nature. In talking blithely about the Bentleys and the Mercedes that are owned by some rural producers- a bland smear with no attempt to show the real truth of the income and the standard of living of all rural producers- it has taken the outstanding few and tried to extend the generalisation to all. It has done so in other areas. I would suggest that if the Labor Party would like to introduce a national health scheme it could do it in more palatable ways than by smearing the medical profession and the private enterprise sections of our medical system. Why has it been necessary for doctors to feel that their backs are against the wall? Why has it been necessary to point to the few individuals deserving of criticism who are inevitable in the medical profession and try to tar all within that profession with the same brush? If the Government's policy on national health is a good one, let it state its merits and let it stand up to public criticism and public debate. Why has it been necessary to use the tag 'multinationals' as a way of invoking national fear in the matter of development of certain parts of our industry? Why is it necessary to try to play on this great xenophobia which apparently the Government believes exists in our society to try to turn the tide of public opinion by this version of our economic development and expansion? Why has it been necessary- and I speak very strongly as a Queenslander on this one- to slur the nursing homes? I can think of no area where it is more important that people be motivated to work. If the motivation be one of profit then that is quite an acceptable motive in my book, if the standards of the nursing home are good and if the costs are reasonable. I cannot think of anybody who needs the care of motivated people more than the elderly; I can think of no group for which it is more important that people should wish to work than in that area. I think it would be lamentable if our old people were to be institutionalisedand there is a real threat there. In Queensland at the moment our private nursing homes are virtually under siege from the Federal Government. It refuses to give adequate subsidies; it refuses to give adequate support to the patients. Each week more and more nursing homes are closing down. We have already lost a couple of hundred beds and there are a large number of elderly people wanting access to nursing homes who cannot get it, and it is no wonder. Nobody is going to risk their money in that area when the Government will not allow the sort of financial support which makes it even within the realms of possibility for these homes to exist.

I would like to refer briefly to a statement made in this context by Senator McLaren. In the whole education debate there probably is no section which has been more unjustifiably slurred than that of independent schools. Senator McLaren referred to 'silvertails' whom, he said, the Opposition claimed to defend. I reject entirely that claim. He took just a few schools, just a few people, and hoped that would prove something to the public at large. Our independent school system has contributed many great things to the educational system of this country and I hope it continues to do so. The Government apparently lives under the delusion that there is a very large number of very wealthy people in this country and they are the ones who use private facilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many parents work very hard and in many cases mothers go to work, so that their children can experience the benefits of the independent school system, not out of any sense of snobbishness or aloofness but because in some cases independent schools can offer something, in terms of their own enterprise that the State systems cannot offer because it does not choose to offer. This is in tune with the statements of the Prime Minister. I quote again from his speech last Saturday:

We have heard the expected outcry from the Opposition, the predictable condemnation from the wealthy, the privileged, the richest private schools, the stockbrokers, the speculators, the vested interests.

Whatever those vested interests may be, I do not know. It is an intriguing phrase but I do not want to dwell on it. I want to draw attention to terms and words like 'wealthy', 'privileged', 'richest private schools' and so on- those terms which are used so blithely and easily and pitted against any criticism of the Government. The facts, of course, are otherwise.

Briefly I must say, as a Queenslander, that while I welcome assistance to Aborigines I cannot think of anything more frightening or more lamentable than the events of the last few days in relation to statements by the Federal Government as to its intentions towards the Queensland Government on the issue of Aborigines. If the Government is sincere, if these great funds that it is providing in the Budget are well intentioned, it should proceed with a little more caution in what is a very vexed area. Perhaps the Government is badly advised. Perhaps the information it receives in this area is insubstantial. But certainly we cannot tolerate the pitting of white against white and black against white in this society. This is a time bomb for this society which we all must dread. Sincere advances we would all welcome.

The Government talks much about its ideals of social justice. Again this was a term that Senator McLaren used a little while ago. There appears to be some difference between socialism and social justice at the moment. The Prime Minister- I again quote from last Saturday's speech- forecast that the alternatives to the sort of Budget brought in last week were:

.   . massive unemployment, bankrupt businesses, idle factories, indiscriminate monetary restrictions.

That is a fair description of the economic policies under which this country is currently suffering and will continue to suffer in the near future.

How are the fine words about social justice justified by the imposition of the capital gains tax? We did not hear any details from the Australian Labor Party in the 1972 and 1974 election campaigns about the imposition of its capital gains tax. I believe the Government has struck at a group at which it can ill afford to strike. While it talks about the 'wealthy' and the 'silvertails' it forgets that many people in Australia, as part of the Australian way of life, aim and hope to hold assets, basic assets. As part of their independent Australian nature they hope to provide for themselves. Few people, if they have control over it, have an ambition to retire on the old age pension. We welcome that the old age pension is there for those who are disadvantaged but most people would prefer to fend for themselves. Yet those who would attempt to do so through the acquisition of assets, those who would attempt to set their goals- the young are very noticeable in this respect- have had a setback. It becomes even more difficult for all individuals in the society to plan and to decide how they will direct their individual destinies- to decide what their destinies may be or could be- and it is even harder for the young, because they are the ones who are subject to such things as moving around the countryside and having to sell assets because of unforeseeable circumstances. These are the individuals who will really suffer under that capital gains tax.

When the Australian Labor Party entered the 1972 and 1974 Federal elections and talked about social justice it did not reveal the hidden realities that the Australian people would have to contribute. It did not say that the Australian people would have to contribute a 95 per cent increase in income tax over the first 2 Budgets introduced by an ALP Government. It did not say that because it knew very well that if it went into an election campaign espousing that sort of policy it would lose. The prospect of vastly increased income tax was one factor which held Labor out of government for so long, yet it has blithely reaped in the extra income tax with no beg-your-pardons to anybody, and certainly with no advance explanation.

Where does this 'super tax', this 'unearned incomes' tax, fit into the Government's notion of social justice? How will it apply to those who have tried to provide for themselves, to provide for their independence in their old age, and those who are contributing through the buying of shares to the buying back of the Australian farm? How does it apply to those people? What of those of us- this applies to most Australian people- who have savings bank accounts and building society accounts? Was the Government so badly advised, was it so hooked on its own propaganda, that it believed that the only people earning income from these sources were the silvertails? Where is that massive group of silvertails which holds all those savings bank accounts and building society accounts, that massive group of silvertails which provides rental accommodation for residents in Australia?

Where in the ALP's speeches was there a proud statement that the Government was going to take its first possible opportunity to transfer resources from the private sector to the public sector? We did not hear a statement like that in the election campaigns. Now we have a bland and blithe statement in the Budget.

There is one resource that this Government is being extremely wasteful of with all its talk about resources strategies and that is the human resource of this country- the individual resources of enterprise, drive, initiative and a wish for independence.

The private enterprise system has served this country well. Do not let it be said or thought for one moment, Mr Deputy President, that I would lay myself open to the easy charge which comes back, on the subject of private enterprise, of laissez faire economics. That went from Australia a long time ago. Those of us who want to see the preservation of the private enterprise system want to see it prosper but prosper in a way which is acceptable to society. We want to see the best of the private enterprise system prosper. It is not in my interest or the interest of my colleagues or of my Party, that the worst individuals that can emerge in the private enterprise system should prosper. But the worst aspects are not just germane to private enterprise. They are human nature aspects and they emerge just as readily through the public sector.

The basis of the drive of our economy in this country- the real drive- is the small businessman, the small entrepreneur, and, of course, the farmer and the professional man. Who are these small businessmen who are going bankrupt in ever increasing numbers at an ever increasing rate- these bankrupt businesses to which the Prime Minister referred? Are they silvertails? Of course not. In most cases the small businessman is a real entrepreneur. Very few of them start in life with any natural advantages in terms of money. Many of them have been tradesmen who have worked hard, and have taken the risk of going into their own business in order to give themselves and their families the opportunity of greater security in the future, and greater opportunity to express their individual talents in thenown way as self-employed people. What is it that is so despicable about being a self-employed person in this society that they have to go to the wall in ever-increasing numbers as is happening at the moment? The strong economic dose that we have in this Budget, as we had in the last Budget, must militate far more strongly against those individuals than it does against the very large enterprises.

What of the farmer, the man who has struggled, the person who has been prepared to battle all sorts of natural odds in his attempt to prosper and to contribute in his own way? I mentioned earlier the particular disabilities that the Queensland farmer suffered until a very few years ago. It appears that the spirit of the farmer is not easily dampened because so many of them hold on. But there is abroad today, affecting the morale of the small businessman and the primary producer, a sense of despondency- a despondency that began well before the Budget and certainly has followed from it. There is a feeling of 'What have we done? Why is it that we who want to earn an honest living, who are prepared to work very hard for very long hours, must be discriminated against and picked for special economic penalties?'

Finally, we heard a philosophy of the Government in the Budget Speech. There has been much discussion in recent years about public attitude towards government and whether the democratic system is working. Much attention has focused on the attitudes of the vocal sections of youth and their attitudes towards government and, some would claim, their disillusionment with it. I believe that the Australian relishes easy access to government when he feels that he needs it. Certainly the young people of this country must hope for a government system which is made to work better. In our federal system, with our Federal, State and local governments, there is that potential. The imposition of a centralised system of government will not enhance that potential.

Since I have been a member of the Senate I have heard it said many times- I have not attempted to count them- on the other side that we on this side should be reminded that we did not win the 1972 and 1974 Federal elections. I never doubted that we lost the 1972 and 1974 Federal elections. But I think the Federal Labor Government needs to be reminded that the Australian Labor Party did not win the State Government election in Queensland in May 1972. However it attempts to manipulate the figures, it did not get a majority of votes in that State. It did not win the Victorian State election in May 1973. It did not win the New South Wales State election in November 1973. Indeed neither did it win the Western Australian state election in March 1974. A Federal government does have certain rights under the Constitution. It does have the right to take certain initiatives and to operate in certain areas. But it does not have the right through the back door, through the top door or whatever it may be, of usurping the responsibilities and the powers of the governments in those States in which it has not succeeded in gaining power. There has been all manner of intrusion into State responsibilities.

This country which has been proud of the highest rate of home ownership in the world has achieved that through the stimulus of policies at both Federal and State levels. But those States in which home ownership is considered still to be a high priority- the States which I have mentionedare finding, because of their philosophies, that to get Federal funds to carry out their normal programs they are having to consent to a higher and higher proportion of that money being used for rental homes. Recently there was the spectacle in relation to roads grants. The Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) wanted to control every little detail of the rights of every little local authority in what it was attempting to do for its roads. We have heard much talk about increased expenditure to the States- and much double talk with it. We have had a concealment of the division of those funds compared with the previous division. When the State Governments have said that they will not implement Australian Labor Party policies via the instruments of the State Governments, the Federal Government turns and points the finger of scorn and says: 'That is a State Government which does not care'. I say to those people who are active at all levels of government and are attempting to diversify power and to keep power closer to the individuals of this country: 'All power'.

Therefore, I have much pleasure in recommending to the Senate the amendment moved by Senator Withers.

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