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Wednesday, 4 December 1974
Page: 3148

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -Mr Deputy President,I rise to take part in this debate having heard Senator Greenwood in my room where I was behaving as I once thought a senator should behave. I recall the words of the monument in Westminster Abbey to James Vernon who was described as being in the Senate, disinterested, vigilant and steady. That was what I was trying to be. Senator Guilfoyle who saw me earlier this evening well knows that that was what I was trying to do. I was provoked to enter this chamber having heard Senator Greenwood for the second Wednesday in succession occupying a very large portion of broadcasting time which is available to the Senate and wondering why I did not take more interest in the Broadcasting and Television Bill which was before the Senate a day or two ago. If we did have freedom to move amendments in this Senate, one would certainly move one to control the amount of broadcasting time which is occupied by one individual in this chamber, as it was last Wednesday and as it has been again this Wednesday.

The Bill which we are discussing is a taxation Bill concerned with the high purposes of the Government which is now in office. It is appropriating money for the purposes of that Government, and it has been used as a vehicle for attacking all sorts of rather petty incidents which Senator Greenwood seems to see as some form of moral corruption. Again tonight we have been treated to this sort of plaintive whine about little incidents in which the Government is allegedly involved, but nothing of substance about the essential issues with which this appropriation of money is concerned, with which the Government is concerned, and with which apparently the Liberal Party is not concerned in any major way.

I draw attention to this point in 2 ways. In the last few weeks in this chamber as we have come up to the Christmas period we have been attacked as a Government in 2 main areas. The 2 things which in essence have been said by the Opposition are that there is no confidence in this community, and that if there is any confidence we tell you you are wrong'. May I use a good illustration of this by referring to a statement made quite recently by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the other place (Mr Anthony) when there was a farmer's demonstration outside this building. Honourable senators will recall that Mr Anthony played a considerable part in encouraging that demonstration to take place. When it failed Mr Anthony issued this statement:

The Government would be unwise to see today's farmers' demonstration 'fizzer' as a true indication of farmers' feelings throughout Australia.

Today's attempt to demonstrate rural concern seems to have ignored several basic requirements, which all farmers should understand: The need for proper preparation, cultivation, watering, fertilising.

The point I make about that statement is that having participated in trying to organise a demonstration which failed Mr Anthony, as the Leader of the Country Party, went on to complain, firstly, that the demonstration had not been properly organised and, secondly, that farmers whom he purports to represent do not understand what they are aggrieved about and what they ought to demonstrate about, and because they do not understand these things he set out in this document to tell them what they ought to be upset about. He said it all at great length. It is an insult to the people whom the Country Party claims to represent. It is an insult to the intelligence of every farmer in Australia.

It is typical of the attitude of the Opposition parties in this chamber; consistently they go out of their way to encourage dissent in this community on all sorts of phony issues and to manufacture phony issues. When they do not succeed in that they tell the people that they do not understand what they really ought to be complaining about. Not only is it true of the Country Party in relation to the rural sector of the economy; it is equally true of the Liberal Party in relation to the business community and that Party's attempts to undermine the confidence of the business community, as it has been doing in this place over a long time. What I put to honourable senators is that the Senate in considering legislation must not be concerned with that negative attitude to Government and that as a House of review we should try to understand the changes which are taking place in this community and changes which are being made by this Government.

I will illustrate some of the points that I regard as important in that connection. It is important that the Senate should recognise some of the fundamental changes initiated by this Government and should attempt to understand them in a constructive sort of way. I will look at a few of the points.

Senator Chaney - I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy President. I rise with some reluctance to take this point of order on Senator Button who is, as usual, lifting the debate to a high plane, but I wonder whether his remarks are very relevant to the Bill that is before us. I refer to standing order 419 and I wonder whether, in view of the lecture which Senator Bishop gave us- I had some sympathy for his lecture- the debate could be returned to the Bill and Senator Button could be asked to confine his remarks to the taxation measure which is before us.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McAuliffe)- Your point of order is noted, Senator Chaney. In view of the pattern that was laid down from the Chair previously, I shall not uphold the point of order.

Senator BUTTON -Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As Senator Chaney was so attentively following me, perhaps he can pick up the point which I was just making when he interrupted. It is simply this: We are concerned about spending money on the purposes of this Government, and we are concerned- and of course a lot of people are concerned- about what the alternative government, if there is such a thing, might do about the sorts of matters with which we are dealing. I was talking about some of the new initiatives which this Government has taken and which involve the spending of money. I wanted to speak first of all about the charge which is made against this Government that it is centralised and that centralism is some sort of evil force in the Australian community which must be resisted as some sort of bogey which cannot be tolerated.

The very fact of the matter is that for the first time in Australia 's history a national government is spending money- in a centralist sense, if you like- in a way which is opening up all sorts of new participatory grass root endeavours in this community. Let me refer first of all to the Australian Assistance Plan and to the debate that we had on it in the Senate. When we talked about it in the Senate we had Senator Greenwood going off again about some trade union official involved in the Australian Assistance Plan in Altona and worrying about all the things which worried him when he was a Minister in the previous government and which will still be worrying him in 25 years time, however irrelevant they might be. That was the level of the debate that we had from the Opposition about the Australian Assistance Plan. For the first time citizens in our community are being asked to participate and are participating in social welfare endeavours at a grass roots level. That is because of the activities of a centralist government. It is not because of the initatives and activities of the much vaunted State governments about which we hear so much; it is because of the initiatives and activities of a centralist government.

For the same sort of reason this Government has made money available to the starved area of Australian government, to the starved tier of the hierarchy- that is, local government- for those purposes. Again it involves the participation of people as a result of central government initiatives. Thirdly I refer to the area of open government in the terms in which this Government has acted in the production of numerous reports on all sorts of issues which for the first time have been freely published and which have let the people of Australia know the sort of information upon which policy decisions, right or wrong, are being based. All these matters are new initiatives in Australian society. The level of discussion and criticism of them by the Opposition Parties in the Senate has been totally appalling and suggests that they just do not understand them. Let me give some more examples. There is whole new lists of words in the political lexicon as a result of this Government's initiatives. For the first time, if one flips through the Liberal Party's new platform, one finds all sorts of notions which just did not exist in the last book.

Senator Chaney - Inflation and unemployment?

Senator BUTTON -I say to Senator Chaney that we all know about inflation and employment. They are important issues. As a matter of fact, there is nothing about them in the Liberal Party's book. Let us look at the headings into which this book has been divided. They are all new words to the Liberal Party. There is a section dealing with the environment, which is something of which it had never really, heard 18 months ago. There is a section dealing with conservation, which really did not emerge much in Liberal Party philosophy 18 months ago. There are all sorts of things, including a section on urban and regional development, which are just new concepts in the political lexicon introduced by this Government and copied in this rather insipid, pale way in the new platform which I was reading so avidly in my room when I was interrupted by Senator Greenwood and was forced to come into this chamber to say a few words.

There are all sorts of initiatives which a central government can take that are not only initiatives of spending money and encouraging new endeavours but also initiatives of example. Once again I refer to new things in our society which just did not exist previously and which are examples to the Australian community of what can be done. We can do things in Australia without being the sort of derivative society that we were under the Liberal-Country Party Government that borrowed all its ideas from the United States of America or the United Kingdom. Let us look at the concept of new cities in Australia. The development of Monarto, the development of Albury-Wodonga, the appropriation of the Glebe lands for redevelopment in an imaginative way, the proposed appropriation of 90 acres of land at Woolloomooloo for new development in an imaginative way, the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, which for the first time has established criteria about the essential heritage of this nation and the sort of things of which, when the petty issues of today are gone, Australian children of the future can be proud, including the vital heritage of the environment, the landscape and the buildings which are so important in the building of a national tradition. Those are all new concepts which the Opposition has shown a little reluctance to support, except in a rather half-hearted way.

We are told that these are the actions of a dangerous centralist government and we are given little lectures about morality and the importance of the Federal structure. So we find in chapter 2 of the Liberal Party's platform a section which is rather pompously headed Federalism- the responsible exercise of power'. That is a very fine sounding thing, but let us look at how it works. What the Liberal Party says in this place and everywhere else is that there is something sacred about the notion of States in the Australian Constitution and that State governments are per se possessed of some particular virtue which we on this side of the chamber do not seem to understand. The important thing about government is, surely, that it should operate effectively and efficiently in the interests of the people. There is still the quaint notion in the Liberal Party's platform that somehow the State governments- like the Queensland Government, for example- are the safeguards of civil liberties in the community.

Senator Bonner - Now, now.

Senator BUTTON - Senator Bonnersays Now, now'. He should know very well about that. The Queensland Government is no doubt a fine example in his eyes. In the section on the responsible exercise of power we are told about the distribution of power and responsibility between the Commonwealth and State governments and local authorities to ensure the maximum participation of the individual citizen in the decisionmaking processes and as an essential safeguard against authoritarianism.

Senator Missen - Hear, hear!

Senator BUTTON -I await the day when, instead of bleating 'Hear, hear', a Liberal Party senator gets up in this place and tells us how the State governments in this country are at the moment safeguarding the individual liberty of the citizen and are bulwarks against authoritarianism, as has been claimed, because if one looks for authoritarianism in this country one does not find it in the national government- one finds it in the activities of the various State governments- and if one looks for efficiency one does not find it in the State governments.

Let us look at the Government of my own State as an example. Let us look at the Government of Victoria- the brightest jewel in the crown of liberalism, as Sir Henry Bolte once described it, the great 'Hamer makes it happen' Government. That Government cannot even spend more than but 24 per cent of the money which is allocated to it for education in a financial year. It cannot do so because its Public Service has not been geared to carry out that sort of imaginative program. The Liberal Government in Victoria has never really seen the needs which exist for the children of that State in education, particularly the needs of disadvantaged children. Everybody in Victoria knows that. The Victorian Government cannot spend the money it has been allocated because it does not have a sufficiently imaginative approach to do so. Let us look at the much vaunted Environmental Protection Authority which was established by the Liberal Government in the State of Victoria. It has now been emasculated and is subject to further review. It was another great State enterprise which was going to show the way but which, as I have already said, has been emasculated.

Let us look at the transport mess in the State of Victoria. Nothing has really been done in Melbourne. No policy has been developed on freeways. Freeways just end in the middle of a surburb and nothing further happens because there is no real design and plan for what is going to happen in relation to freeways in that State. Let us look at the proposed Newport power station fiasco, which has been raised again and again in this chamber. The establishment of such a power station is the responsibility of the Victorian Government, but its minions in this chamber have raised it in the hope of gaining some sort of assistance from this chamber to get it out of its difficulties. In dealing with the question of federalism as the responsible exercise of power, I refer to that sort of issue as showing something of the ill conceived nature of the view that State governments are somehow efficient in the interests of Australian people and are somehow the bulwarks of freedom and the individual against authoritarianism.

Senator Bonner - You want to do away with State governments.

Senator BUTTON -I did not say that I would want to do away with State governments, if you want to know the answer to that suggestion.

Senator Bonner - You are here under false pretences in that case.

Senator BUTTON - I am not here under false pretences.

Senator Bonner - You were elected by the State to represent it.

Senator BUTTON - I am quite aware of that, Senator Bonner. I am able to work that out for myself. I am grateful for the honourable senator's assistance, but I do happen to know that. There may be something else that he can tell me that I do not know- I am sure he can- but that is not one of the things. Before I was so rudely interrupted by my colleague Senator Bonner I was making the point that the much vaunted State governments need very close examination as a viable political structure. We must examine the question: What ensures the liberty of the individual in Australia? What is the bulwark against authoritarianism? What is the most efficient and productive form of government that involves the citizens? I put it to the Senate that the imaginative centralist initiatives of the Government have involved for the first time the citizens of our community in all sorts of new participatory endeavours, but the much vaunted State governments have done nothing over the years, and are doing nothing now, to secure those liberties or to secure the involvement of citizens in all sorts of endeavours of that kind. Senator Bonner is trying to interject, but if I were he I would not boast too much about Queensland. His Premier must be unique throughout the world when one talks about authoritarianism, lack of imagination and so on.

Senator Bonner - You will know about it on 7 December.

Senator BUTTON -Senator Bonner will know something on 7 December. 1 am sure that we will all know something on 7 December. I still do not think that any Australian who is travelling overseas would describe Queensland as the brightest jewel in the democratic structure of Australia and as the most shining example of progressive State governments. If that is what the honourable senator stands for he ought to say that Mr Bjelke-Petersen is his boy. If the honourable senator subscribes to the values of Mr

Bjelke-Petersen in terms of individualism and the rights of the individual in terms of new developments in government, he should say so so that everybody in this chamber and everybody listening know where he really stands.

Senator Greenwood - What is wrong with those values? They are good individualist values on which this country has prospered.

Senator BUTTON -Senator Greenwood can talk about their being individualist values. We all know that Mussolini made the trains run on time. I am told that Hitler was an. individualist and that Franco is too. Maybe Mr Bjelke-Petersen is a good individualist. In fact from listening to Senator Greenwood speak in this chamber I would say that his performances were uniquely individual.

Senator Carrick - I take a point of order. I draw attention to the fact that the senator has not addressed himself at all in the last 10 minutes to the Bill, which is the Income Tax Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McAuliffe)- Senator Carrick, I appreciate your inviting my attention to that matter. You did not cite the standing order. I explained in response to a point of order that was taken previously by Senator Chaney that I would not accept the point of order. I took as my giude the ruling of the person who had occupied the chair before me- a senator of great experience in the chair. Far be it for me to rule contrary to the way he had previously ruled. He set the pattern for this debate. I know that senators have wandered from the text of the Bill before the Senate but that was the pattern allowed by the person who occupied the chair before me. He has greater experience than I have. I will follow the lines that he set here this evening. The point of order is not upheld.

Senator BUTTON -I was talking about the money that the Government was appropriating for taxation purposes and under provocation from Senator Bonner and Senator Greenwood contrasting the approach that our Government adopts to appropriating money for the purposes of the Government with the way that the Queensland Government appropriates its money.

Senator Keeffe - And spends some.

Senator BUTTON - And spends some, I am reminded. I was making the point that the national government has created all sorts of new openings and initiatives for citizens in this community by its imagination, by the way in which it spends money and by the examples that it has set. 1 will illustrate my point by talking about the section of the federal platform of the Liberal Party that deals with local government, which is a matter for which the Liberal Party, if it were in office, would no doubt appropriate a little money. Part of the document states:

Local government is increasingly called upon to promote and foster public involvement . . .

There is nothing very much new about that, but the burden of local government finance should not be borne from rates alone. The platform continues:

The Commonwealth must recognise and accept a responsibility to assist local government, through the States, to fulfil its increasingly important role.

Senator Bonner - Again what is wrong with that?

Senator BUTTON -I am about to tell the honourable senator what is wrong with that, if he would wait a minute. It is simply this. It goes back to the point that I was making a moment ago. Everywhere the sacrosanct words 'through the States' must be included in this platform. Even when we debated last week the Family Law Bill, it had to be done through the States. It is stated in the platform of the Liberal Party that we do it through the States because they are somehow the guardians of individual liberty and because they save us from the threat of central government authoritarianism and so on. We must examine these concepts to see what they really mean. The Opposition in this chamber is full of reactionary huff and puff. This is a high sounding document that means nothing when one examines it. One must ask what the Opposition really stands for on these issues. It seems to me that it stands for the notion that the States will somehow be their saviours in every political situation. When we put forward a referendum at the May elections to enable the national Government to provide money directly for local government, it was opposed by the Liberal Party.

Senator Bonner - The people knocked it out; we did not.

Senator BUTTON -I know that the people knocked it out. I am saying that it was opposed by the Liberal Party on the same old lines that somehow if one does it through the States, the guardians of individual liberties, they will do it better than if the money is paid directly to local government. The Opposition is afraid of direct participation by the people of Australia in their own affairs; it is afraid of direct participation by the people in local government and in all the areas covered by the Australian Assistance Plan.

When we look at the money that must be appropriated under this Bill we look at the national endeavours that this Government is making. We look at it in contrast to the rather shabby Opposition that really has done nothing but try to undermine the confidence of the Australian people and has put nothing forward other than these rather empty slogans to which I have referred in the much vaunted new federal platform of the Liberal Party.

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