...The economic crises of the seventies and the political turmoil which accompanied them, should have revealed some clear and neon-like messages to us all. But so far this has not happened as it should have.
After five years, the unemployment position has not really improved - it is in fact, somewhat worse. Interest rates are no better. Taxation makes a bigger bite than it did. The national wage bill has remained fairly steady in real terms. Only on the inflation front was there any real measure of success. At best, we have been standing still economically. The Australian people know this is the case, by the quality of their lives and the experiences of their families.
If the Government questions our analysis, perhaps it might note a similar assessment by some other community leaders. In its latest December issue the "IPA Review" ...had this to say,
"The Liberal-Country Party coalition will be expected to turn in a much better performance in the coming three years than in the past five. Indeed, it will have to, if it is to stand a chance of re-election in 1983. 1975-1980 were years of great disappointment for the Australian people, and not least for many of the Governments most ardent supporters. The Govern- ment failed ... to fulfil the hopes of the people who put it into office."
Therein lie two of our Government's traumas. First, it is in office without a properly defined set of goals - for the 1980 policy speech was virtually without any significant plans other than in the most vague and hazy outline and it was written to conceal from the people whatever plans are either locked away in Canberra or locked away in the minds of our leaders. Second, the Government has just recently dismissed the practice of goal-setting For example, the Prime Minister told the Party in Adelaide, on 5 December 1980
"To attempt to govern from a blueprint is a recipe for disaster; indeed, this is the essential case against central planning."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is simply not so. Just about every business organisation I know of, and most credible social organisations in this country, have clearly and precisely identified their future directions, as far as we have a knowable future, in what are referred to as strategic plans. If businesses were without strategic planning, we would quickly descend into an abyss of national bankruptcy.
When will our leaders in Canberra and the Party hierarchy realise that liberalism is an adventure in an ever-changing world, that does involve planning and where affirmative action can remove the chains which have restrained too many of our people from participat- ing fully in our society.
Government, while never a god to be worshipped, can be an effective leadership instrument in changing people's lives for the better if we are prepared to give real and sensitive leadership that induces a national co- operative effort, and if we are prepared to replace commands with co-operation. The time is now for the politics of inaction and boredom to give way to the politics of purpose. The time is now for the Parliament to reassert its authority and responsibility and to upgrade the function and efficiency of government operations on a bi-partisan basis without the indecency of half- baked, superficial, sword-waving razor-ganging
Many of our people understandably remain mystified that their governments pay so little attention to the human needs of the economically powerless while spending a comparative fortune on welfare. They are mystified because they know they are living in a nation which can, in part, through a properly managed and properly shared resources program, be the energy engine-room of the world. And therefore an economic power house.
But if they lose their hopes and their aspirations, in the eighties and nineties, the Australian ideal of a fair- go will never be shared by - young Australians, black Australians, ethnic Australians, the invisible poor, the jobless, the physically and mentally handicapped, the sick and the homeless. The charge we have so often heard about our Party's and our Government's insensitivity to the poor, the young, the black, the ethnic, the sick the jobless, the disabled and the homeless, would not have been made so regularly, or so forcefully, if it was not without some truth.
And so, the inflation first program must now make way for the people first program. The anti-inflation program must continue. The resources development program must continue. The wage moderation pro- gram must continue. But they must not displace the priority we should be giving the poor.
It is obvious that those who claim that everyone in Australia has equality of opportunity, especially econ- omic opportunity, have not confronted the truth as it really is.
What is the truth?
The brutal truth is that 6% of our people are without jobs, 14% or one in every seven of our people are very poor, 5% of our people are mentally or physically handicapped.
These are not the indicators of a great society. These are the signals of a society in trouble.
The brutal truth is that 15,000 of our children live permanently in institutions. The brutal truth is that in my own city, the City of Sydney, there are 15,000 homeless people. Even worse is the fact, and I dare say a root cause of poverty, that 20% of our school leavers are emerging from Australian secondary schools each year, either partially or totally illiterate.
If this is the brutal truth, what do we do about it? First, we recognise the facts as they are. Second, we set down a national plan to eradicate poverty, and involve all governments, key organisations and the people in the suburbs and the countryside. Third, we make that plan and the people it involves, the priority of national and state governments with a lead from Canberra, and not item ten or seventeen or forty three or whatever, on the agenda Fourth, we widely promote on television and elsewhere, the range and use of government and community facilities, including the educational facilities, that are available to the poor.
If we are not to embark on urgent action, we will quickly learn, if we have not already done so, that when man's spirit is broken, the nations hope is gone. When man is idle, the nation is lost. And when men seek resolution in violence, we are all wounded.
A national plan of action among the invisible poor must include the other Australians, and we must end the disgrace of unnecessary Aboriginal suffering The suffering we see where 20% of elderly Aborigines are blind. Where 30% of aboriginal children under 11, have trachoma Where the average life expectancy of black Australians is 50 years. Where infant mortality among Aboriginal babies is 4 times higher than it is among white babies. Where leprosy is a significant problem. And, where the average age at death, among Aborigi- nal males in north-western New South Wales, is an unbelievable 38 years.
...Our country is endangered not just by the indifference and slowness of governments, Liberal and Labor, but by the insensitivity among those in the universities, in the boardrooms, in the town halls and the trade halls, in the newspaper offices, in the factories, farms and offices, and most importantly, in the homes and the schools, where answers can be found - must be found.
Those who are in responsible positions know that information is power. That, incidentally, is why the Government persists with its dreadfully inadequate Freedom of Information Bill, which no self-respecting government should support
The fact that there is a plethora of information and reports on the dimension of poverty in Australia, means that we cannot, with any sense of justice, disguise for one day longer, the urgency of the task.
...The time has now come for us to appoint a Joint Parliamentary and Citizens' Commission, to report to the National Parliament before the end of 1981...The economic engine-room must be kept operating at a brisk pace, but its human consequences cannot be ignored and the poor should not be left way behind. For without them we are all poorer. To sum up my own feelings and beliefs, I would like to borrow some thoughts from the late Senator Robert Kennedy, one of the most visionary men of our time, and apply them to our Australian situation, to which I believe, as I said in Melbourne the other day, they are entirely relevant
"Let us be clear that we will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the (stock exchange index), nor national achievement by the gross national product.
For the gross national product includes air pollution, and advertising of cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks on our doors, and gaols for the people who break them...It grows with the production of...missiles and nuclear warheads...and includes the broadcasting of television programs (to our children) which glorify violence...
And if the gross national product includes all this there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our (films) or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our public officials. It allows neither for justice in our courts, nor for the justness of our dealings with each other. The gross national product measures neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our wisdom, nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country.
It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about (Australia), except whether we are proud to be (Australians) "
Speech to the 13th Young Liberal Convention Tasmania 5 January 1981