The Hon. Dr PETER WONG [9.42 p.m.]: In the widely circulated background document that was produced by the National Competition Council on national competition policy, we are informed that in 1992 Professor Hilmer was commissioned to report on ways in which Australia could improve its competitiveness. I draw the attention of the House to the ideas inherent in a letter from the Federal Treasurer, Mr Costello, to the president of the New South Wales Liquor Stores Association, Mr Higgs. Among other things, the Federal Treasurer said that the national competition policy was "to promote competition in order to boost the Australian economy". Just exactly how does the Federal Treasurer define a boost? What exactly does this so-called boost to the economy entail? How is a boost measured? What is the cost of this boost to children and families through the impact of competition policy? What about its effect on tertiary education, on aged care, on health, food growers and employers who are forced to compete against impossible margins? In order to survive, employers pass on their losses to their employees, relegating them to poverty through uncertainty of employment—taking them from full-time to part-time employment, and then downgrading them to casual employment.
On the matter of the lack of availability of full-time and dependable employment as a result of these so-called economy boosting competition policies, Sydney journalist Adele Horin stated on the weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald that our poor families have to keep their children at home from school when there are school excursions because they do not have the money to send them. Therefore those children miss out on what we have come to believe are the normal experiences of Australian daily life. These children suffer as a result of their parents not being able to depend on full-time or even part-time employment—a direct result of competition policy. These children have few possessions, few clothes and few toys. They cannot connect to the Internet. Holidays are completely out of the question. Their parents often go without in order to feed their children. The basics have become luxuries. This is Australia—not some Third World backblock.
The New South Wales Government has managed to remove any hope by putting education way out of reach. It has put the cost of TAFE courses out of the reach of these families. They cannot better themselves through education because it is out of the question. The poverty trap is the result of this so-called boost. The gap between the rich and poor under theses economic rationalist policies is ever widening, and the New South Wales Government is failing to protect us from the socially devastating consequences of the so-called boosts of competition. This so-called boost to the Australian economy that our armchair fat cat Federal Treasurer talks about is a myth to these families. They are really suffering and the governments are telling them that the market will decide and that they have to be competitive. At what point will the governments decide that the market has decided? These people are not even players in this market—just the recipients of its paltry crumbs.
The market has made its decision and these people are no longer players. Families are not competitive. I believe that we need to have a major rethink about the uncritical adoption of ideas of armchair economic policy, such as those developed by the esteemed Professor Hilmer and his fundamentally crippling competition policy. We were told that the lack of competition in and among our industries was holding Australia back from prosperity and was negatively affecting our international competitiveness, so we took on board the Hilmer competition mantra which, in essence, has meant a totally deregulated economy. This is the Hilmer-isation of Australian society. This is the result of the bonuses that the Federal Government gives to the States for complying with erosive competition policies, and this is what the Premier, Mr Carr, and the New South Wales Treasurer, Mr Egan, have become addicted to, at the expense of the public interest.