House of Representatives 5 September 1991
In December 1944, on the foundation of the Liberal Party, Robert Gordon Menzies, after whom my electorate was named, declared:
“What we must look for is a true revival of liberal thought that will work for social justice and security, for national power and progress and for full development of the individual citizen, though not through the dull and deadening process of socialism.”
Australia’s present social and economic woes owe much to the dead hand of socialism, which stifles individualism and withers enterprise in this country at its roots. Rampant unionism hinders the vaunted but little recognised and little realised micro-economic reform in this nation and continues to keep our economy uncompetitive with its wasteful work practices. A plethora of taxes, including a tax on employment itself, punishes anyone in this country who is foolhardy enough to invest the capital and to work around the clock. People such as that are the people who employ over half the Australian work force.
This Government has nailed compassion to its masthead. We know that the Labor Government cares about the underprivileged. Perhaps that is why it spends all its time creating more of them. This Government likes to talk about the help it gives to low income families, but under this Labor Administration the great mass of Australian people who are responsible for creating the wealth of this nation have suffered a decrease in their living standards. Real after-tax earnings for average workers have fallen by 6.7 per cent between 1985 and 1990. Research by the Parliamentary Library puts total income decline for the four years 1985 to 1989 at around 10 per cent.
The honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Wright) feigns concern for the Australian people. Where was that concern when the Budget was being framed? This caring and compassionate Labor Government boasts of the increase in employment it presided over until the recession that we `had to have’. But this increase was largely due to the number of women in the work force, and the second wage only served to mask a real decrease in living standards. Women went back to work because they had to, because their husbands could no longer provide for them and support a family on a single wage because of the rise and hike in interest rates up to 18, 19 and 20 per cent that we saw. A major study commissioned by Family Circle magazine and published in May of this year found that 86 per cent of working mothers work because of financial pressures on the family, not because they want to.
And what of that other jewel in the crown of the Labor Government, the beautiful set of figures represented by previous Budget surpluses? This, too, proved to be only paste. Much of this was money that was clawed back from ordinary Australians. Total taxation on individuals has more than doubled, from $23 billion in 1982-83 to almost $51 billion in 1989-90 — largely due to inflation. This has pushed ordinary workers into even higher tax brackets. Average Australians now face a marginal tax rate of nearly 40c in the dollar, compared with 30c when Messrs Hawke and Keating came to power. Worse, changes to taxes and benefits have left average middle income families worse off.
For instance, a single income family with two children earning $22,000, even after an increase in income in line with the CPI and despite Federal tax cuts and the family package, was $226 a year worse off. A double income family with two children earning $42,500 was $409 worse off. But a double income family with no children earning $75,000 received an extra $891 a year, almost as much as the amount provided to a single mother with two children on welfare benefits, who got an extra $899 a year.
Under this Government top income earners have seen a drop in the top tax rate from 60c in the dollar to 49c, in July 1987. On 1 January 1990 the marginal tax rate on incomes over $50,000 fell from 49 per cent to 47 per cent. But the very rich, in fact, do not even pay those rates, as they receive a large proportion of the tax reductions, rebates and credits that are paid out in Australia, mostly because of the dividend imputation scheme introduced by the present Federal Government. This reduces the average millionaire’s tax rate on net income to just over 26 per cent, the same rate as that paid by someone earning between $30,000 and $50,000. So people with net incomes of $500,000 or more are paying less tax than ordinary Australians earning $30,000 to $50,000. So much for the level playing field.
But this Government is apparently a caring and compassionate government — it must be because it tells us it is so often. The Prime Minister is a compassionate man. We have seen him shed a manly tear or two. Who are we to say that those are the tears usually ascribed to the reptilian inhabitants of Kakadu? Let us remember how the great Russian writer Tolstoy described the difference between sentimentality and sentiment. Tolstoy said that sentimentality was what the aristocratic lady demonstrated when she cried over a sad story in her box at the opera while her coachman shivered in the snow outside. If anyone wants to shed tears, prepare to shed them now — not just for one family but for the hundreds of thousands of Australian families who are shivering in this economic depression brought on by this Government.
This caring and compassionate Labor Government has thoughtfully furnished us with the bloody entrails with which we may read the portents of the future, like the ancient seers. The signs of human anguish are all around us in the hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of people queuing for jobs advertised, in the `For sale’ signs out in the suburban heartland as once-secure middle income families now give up on their dream of home ownership, in the empty business premises on the High Streets and in the shopping centres of our towns and cities, and in the pages and pages of advertisements for sales of capital equipment. The machinery of Australia is rusting or being sold off, often to overseas buyers.
The real human tragedy is unquantifiable but nonetheless real for being so. For the past 10 years my wife, Margaret, and I have worked in marriage education and we have seen at first-hand how financial stress causes marriages to fall apart under extreme pressure. Some people have even committed suicide in this depression that we `had to have’, feeling that the struggle was so unequal that they could not go on. There never was a level playing field, and it has become even more deeply corrugated under this Labor Government.
Let us pause for a moment and think about the more than 160,000 Australian families whose breadwinner is out of work. In July, 801,700 people were actively looking for work but still unemployed. Most are in the prime of their working life and aged between 25 and 54. Almost half are married. In one in four families in Australia there is someone who has no job. In other words, in 188,000 Australian families no-one has a job. Between them, those families have more than 175,000 children under the age of 14 living in homes where no-one has a job. The increase in the number of unemployed has been by far the greatest — 50 per cent — in the group of people who are typically breadwinners.
Unemployment amongst teenagers has increased by 23 per cent, and amongst people over 55 by 35 per cent. Virtually the entire increase in unemployment this year has been in the medium to long term unemployment categories. What of the many thousands every month or so who give up looking for work and cease to be registered as unemployed? In July alone, 44,000 Australians gave up looking for work. Who can blame them when the only jobs that they see at the local CES office seem to be along the lines of `Clerk, able to speak German, Cantonese and Indonesian’, as I saw recently?
Let us also pause to reflect on the bankruptcies brought about by the economic climate engineered by this Government that has been wont to tell us that it has been pulling all the right levers. The truth is that we are now in free fall with only the shreds of a parachute. This Government likes to hark back to the Fraser Government. During its term of office there were 30,945 bankruptcies, or an average of 3,868 per year. During the unholy alliance of Mr Hawke and Mr Keating, and now Mr Kerin, there have been 60,089 bankruptcies, or 7,511 per year. That means that bankruptcies have doubled and in the Labor States of Victoria and Western Australia the increase is 70 per cent or more. This is the fruit of high taxes, high interest rates and a program of disincentives for business and personal endeavour. Yet there will be no wealth to distribute if the wealth creators are tied and bound. That is the predicament that Australia is in today.
Faced with these problems, what response do we see from the Government? We see not solutions but slogans, which have replaced ideas. For example, `No child is to live in poverty’; we are to be the `clever country’; we were going to have a `soft landing’; now it is the recession we `had to have’. Also, `There can’t be gain without pain’. There is nothing the matter with rhetoric; it is just that in this case it is not supported by any action. The latest slogan is `better cities’. This is the neutron bomb approach to social planning — destroy the people but leave the cities standing. In this country, government has been reduced to a matter of style.
Mr Speaker, may I thank you, the Clerk and the other officers of the House for the warm welcome that I was given on my arrival here. I knew that my time would be interesting when the Clerk informed me that I had been seated next to the honourable member for O’Connor (Mr Tuckey). However, it has been depressing not to find the clash of great ideas in this Parliament at such a time of national crisis. Instead, we see the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who, like the murderous Macbeth, displays `vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other’.
Meanwhile, the real issues that the Australian people want addressed are ignored or compromised in the internal squabbles of this moribund Government. Yet, now more than ever there is a time, there is a need for good parliamentarians — not party pooches as we see every day in Question Time, who mouth dorothy dixers at the appointed time from their so-called leaders. Edmund Burke once described a good parliamentarian as one who is responsive to his electorate and able to employ his judgment and his skills for the benefit of his constituents. I will try to follow the example of the former honourable member for Menzies, Neil Brown, who used his judgment and skills to serve not just the constituents of Menzies but the people of Australia.
I drive a Ford Falcon, which will indicate the breadth and diversity of the Liberal Party, which can encompass both Ferraris and Ford Falcons. A barrister by trade, I come from the great middle sector of Australia. My father ran a small trucking business and a small mixed farm in Gippsland. My mother, who, I am proud to say, is here today, carried on this work for 15 years after my father’s death, often rising at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m to transport stock to market. I learnt early of the need to work hard to succeed and that I could rely on no-one but myself.
It would be tempting to believe that we are all equal and we all should receive the same portion of the cake, but that is a sure recipe for diminishing the cake. For all their socialist talk, Labor’s Batman and Robin managed to rob the middle income earners to give to the rich. In 1983 the top one per cent of taxpayers earned as much as the bottom 11 per cent. By 1989 the top one per cent earned as much as the bottom 21 per cent. This is what the distribution of wealth is all about. This is the social justice that we hear so much of.
Much of my experience at the Bar was in general civil litigation. No-one could practise in the civil courts in recent years without appreciating the economic plight of so many in this country. In 1987 I represented grain handlers before the Royal Commission into Grain Storage, Handling and Transport. We demonstrated then the gross inefficiency of the transport infrastructure, dominated as it was by union and bureaucratic interests. Yet, five years later, real micro-economic reforms have not been implemented.
The second area in which I practised involved appeals by veterans against decisions of the Repatriation Commission. These people, now old and often disabled, gave the best years of their lives, often in disease- infested jungles. They prompted in me an appreciation of the sacrifices necessary to ensure the security of our great country from foreign aggression and to reflect upon the importance of our location on the rim of Asia. In 1989-90, approximately 36 per cent of all imports to this country were from Asia and some 56 per cent of exports were to Asia. Our opposition to the trading blocs in Europe and North America and other restrictions on free trade must continue, but we need to better utilise the opportunities presented to us in our own region.
My major interest in recent years has been in health law and bioethics, which include areas of national concern. Of bioethics I will only say now that I regret that the Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services (Mr Howe) has apparently ignored wider community concerns by establishing exclusively within the scientific community a new Australian Health Ethics Committee with some of the same personnel from the widely discredited National Bioethics Consultative Committee. Appropriate regulation in sensitive and complex areas such as reproductive technology requires a system which is accountable and inspires public confidence. The current proposal will achieve neither.
The second matter is the appropriate funding of health and the question of how we allot priorities within those services. There is almost a $10 billion shortfall between the funding raised by the Medicare levy and the amount that is spent on Medicare. The current national health strategy is clouded by the usual pie in the sky socialist ideology which fails to ask the vital questions. What are the limits of our health care resources? What are the priorities of the current allocation and what are the principles and processes by which those priorities are to be determined?
Justice has to be more than glib sloganeering about universal coverage and equity. For far too long, we on this side of the House have allowed spurious claims of compassion from the Government to pass unchallenged. Almost a million Australians are unable to support themselves with the work that is their right, and the compassionate and caring Labor Government tells us that this is inevitable and will go on for years to come. This is the compassion that a charisma driven government, hell-bent on clinging to power, offers. But people must come before ideology.
The Liberal Party is not hamstrung by a big brother centralist ideology but orients itself around the needs of the individual and the family. It is guided by a pragmatic ideal which Robert Menzies spelt out in April 1939, when he said:
Internally my theme is justice. I declare my political creed here and now. It is that the essential end of government is not power or glory, but the good life for ordinary men and women. The ordinary man, as I know him, asks for a happy life, not a complaining one; for a full life and not an idle one. We must have industrial justice and social justice, industrial security and social security.
We can create an atmosphere in which social justice can flourish by encouraging the wealth creators, the great Australian middle class, so that we can best support the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. When Count Dracula arises to take over the leadership of this caring and compassionate Labor Party, let us not be taken in by more crocodile talk of equity and social justice achieved. Let us judge the caring and compassionate Labor Administration by all its pomps and deeds. By them this Government must be known. The real — not fictional — social justice that a coalition government offers will be the stake to impale this Transylvanian team. In the meantime, let us mourn their victims, the Australian people — and this, the 1991 Budget, will be their epitaph.