Last updated on February 14, 2024
An exchange between former Prime Minister Paul Keating and the Liberal member for O’Connor, Wilson Tuckey, on February 18, 1986, still ranks as one of the more vicious encounters in the House of Representatives.
The House was debating a Matter of Public Importance on Fuel Prices and Taxation. John Howard, then Leader of the Opposition, had spoken first. He was followed by the then Treasurer, Paul Keating. Hansard records events as follows:
Mr KEATING (Blaxland-Treasurer)(3.09) — One always has to have a bit of a quiet giggle about the former Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong and Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), worrying about our Budget and this Government’s capacity to bring down its Budget. The economic vandal of 1982 is now the economic angel of 1986. He is the man who started with a Budget deficit of $1.4 billion in 1982 and 18 months later left us with $9.6 billion. It went from $1.4 billion to $9.6 billion in 18 months. This is the character who is lecturing us about fiscal rectitude-his oiliness, the man who put all the oil money up, the honourable member for Bennelong–
Mr Tuckey –If you want me to talk about Kristine, you keep up with this ‘his oiliness’. I will give it to you any time you want it. You play it straight.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) –Order! The honourable member for O’Connor might have an early afternoon if he proceeds in this way.
Mr KEATING –Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for O’Connor is a member with a criminal intellect, and is a criminal in my view.
Mr Tuckey –Mr Deputy Speaker–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Order! The honourable member for O’Connor will resume his seat. The Treasurer will not speak while the occupant of the chair is on his feet.
Mr Tuckey –Withdraw.
Mr KEATING –On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was speaking. He did not raise a point of order. If disciplinary action is available, it ought to be taken against him.
Opposition members -Withdraw.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –The Chair is aware that the Treasurer was interrupted. The honourable member for O’Connor has claimed that the words used by the Treasurer were offensive to him. Will the Treasurer withdraw?
Mr KEATING –I will withdraw nothing.
Mr Tuckey –On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do object to the words ‘his oiliness’. I believe that they are unparliamentary. I have now also been accused of having a criminal intellect, and I ask that that be withdrawn. I certainly do not mix with criminals.
Mr KEATING –I do not get someone to hold somebody against a wall while I belt him with a truncheon.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Order! The Treasurer will refer–
Opposition members -Name him.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –I have all afternoon if the members of the Opposition wish to continue. The Treasurer will refer to the Leader of the Opposition as the Leader of the Opposition and will withdraw the remarks made against the honourable member for O’Connor.
Mr KEATING –Mr Deputy Speaker, in deference to you I withdraw but I point out that the Leader of the Opposition hurls all sorts of abuse at me, and all through Question Time those two pansies over there want retractions of the things we have said about them. They are a bunch of nobodies going nowhere. Let me repeat this undertaking: This Government will meet its trilogy commitments.
Mr Donald Cameron –I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Treasurer has even called people over here pansies. When are you going to put an end to all this rubbish he is going on with?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –I do not know whether the honourable member for Moreton was identifying with the Treasurer’s remarks; I am sure he was not. Members of the Opposition are busily provoking the Treasurer, and the Treasurer is busily provoking members of the Opposition. If both parties continue in this mode I guess they have to expect to take what they get. It would be to the benefit of both sides if members of the Opposition listened to the Treasurer in the same way as Government members listened to the Leader of the Opposition. The Treasurer may now proceed.
Mr KEATING –The Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence but we will get no such treatment from the animals on the other side. Let me make this clear: We do not need advice from the Opposition about how to run a decent fiscal policy. We were left with the most disastrous fiscal inheritance, the most disastrous fiscal imbalance, of any government in the history of this Federation. That is what we were left with. I just add that, in terms of our alleged breaches of promise, our major commitment was to reduce unemployment and provide jobs. Our major commitment was to provide 500,000 jobs in three years and, before the three years are up on 5 March this year, we have already created 608,000 jobs. That was our principal commitment; that is the principal promise which has been kept by this Government. That is in marked contrast to the performance of the former Government and the disastrous levels of unemployment it left. The Government will meet its trilogy-the only discipline ever imposed on a government’s fiscal policy in living memory. Let me make it quite clear that we will provide the tax cuts, we will meet our new spending obligations, including our consideration on oil, and we will do so within the trilogy. We do not need any lecturing from the Opposition about budgetary policy after it left us with the deficit we had. The Leader of the Opposition, whose policy this is, has said that he will refuse the passage of the measures providing for the $700m to $800m tax cuts. He would add that to the deficit.
Mr N.A. Brown –Who said that?
Mr KEATING –The Leader of the Opposition said that in an interview. He made it quite clear that he would carry the $600m to $800m without the current revenue measures. He also said that he would carry the cost of a return of the oil money, which is $1 billion-plus. So he has $1 billion-plus on oil and $800m on tax cuts. But when the Press Gallery dared to ask how this would be funded, how the coalition government would bring down a fiscally responsible Budget, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) said yesterday:
that is the Treasurer–
“with the assistance of a couple of financial journalists from the gallery to throw it back to the Opposition by asking where we would make the necessary cuts.”
He went on:
“We simply will not do that.”
That is what he said. He blames the Press Gallery for making him face up to all these crazy promises he has made. When the Leader of the Opposition is asked about this, he says:
“I will, at the appropriate time, indicate what a coalition government will be doing in the expenditure area. I do not intend now, or in the immediate future, to be detailing the alternative expenditure plans of the Opposition.”
So in other words he is saying: ‘Mount it all up. Never say where the tax cuts come from. When there is any debate on the Government side about tax cuts we will jump up with a matter of public importance’. The fact is that we have made expenditure cuts within the Government and we have reduced the Budget deficit. We did not do it with the lazy oil money. We did not grab the easy oil money, as the world price went up, to reduce the deficit. We reduced the deficit by-
Opposition members interjecting-
Mr KEATING –Mr Deputy Speaker, do I get any protection here? At least I would like to be heard.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) –Order! The Leader of the Opposition might find himself having an early afternoon as well. Members of the Opposition seem to have taken the view that the way to disrupt the business of the House is to continue interjecting. If members of the Opposition continue to do that the Chair will just have to take the view that some of the louder interjectors will have to have an early afternoon. If that occurs I do not think the Chair will discriminate among office holders. I will not warn members of the Opposition any more. I ask the members of the Opposition front bench and on the back bench to hear the Treasurer in silence and that will ensure that the right honourable member for New England is heard in silence when he speaks.
Mr KEATING –We find that the $1 billion- plus of oil money and $800m on tax cuts is to be mounted up on the Budget. But we should not ask honourable members opposite about expenditure. I remind the House that in three Budgets we funded $2,000m of new policy in the social security, welfare and housing areas and we brought down the Budget deficit from the $9.6 billion we inherited to $8.5 billion, and then to $4.9 billion, or less than half of its proportion of gross domestic product. We have funded this new policy by putting Labor’s priorities in place and by cutting outlays. The former Government never cut outlays. Its lousy razor gang only raised $250m after 18 months. The only way the former Government cut the deficit was by taking in the lazy oil money. It never had a decent expenditure-cutting exercise. Of course, the business of government, of reducing those deficits, is about expenditure control. Whenever there is any debate on the Government side about the difficult areas of expenditure control, up gets the lunatic with a proposition like this about-
Mr Carlton –Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order.
Mr KEATING –Here is old Rosie again. She is up again.
Mr Carlton –On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is unparliamentary language and I ask that it be withdrawn.
Mr KEATING –Anything you say. I withdraw.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –The Chair was not aware that the Treasurer was referring to any particular person.
Mr Tuckey –On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The reference was to ‘the’ lunatic and it should be withdrawn.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Is the honourable member identifying himself as the person the Treasurer was referring to?
Mr Tuckey –I am quite happy to, but it wasn’t me.
Mr Howard –On a further point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I respectfully suggest to you, sir, that, if you want the co-operation that you so earnestly request of the Opposition, you might treat points of order taken by the Opposition a little less flippantly.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Order! The Chair was not aware, with the performance of the Leader of the Opposition and his front bench in their continual interjections in the last 10 minutes, that they were all that interested in taking this debate too seriously either. If you wish to take the debate seriously, the way it should be, the Chair will ensure that you are given the respect that you deserve, but if you wish to continue to interject the Chair will treat it as the type of raucous debate you tend to want to run it as.
Mr KEATING –It is the Opposition’s proposition that I am responding to. We heard the Leader of the Opposition in silence. If we are in the business of making threats, let me make one: If they keep up this behaviour they will have no matters of public importance for the rest of this week. So how about that? I am not going to waste my time trying to be heard in answering a proposition raised by the Opposition. If the Opposition wants to raise the proposition, I will answer it. I will knock the Opposition right over, no problems. If Opposition members want a few New South Wales ALP rules, I will give them to them.
Mr Shipton –I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Treasurer said words to the effect that if the Opposition kept up this conduct there would be no MPIs. The matter of an MPI is at the discretion of the Speaker. The Treasurer has threatened the Chair and I ask you to get him to withdraw.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Order! It is nothing of the sort. Resume your seat.
Mr KEATING –I can only conclude at this point. The Opposition has no interest in this issue apparently.
Mr Carlton –What about your own back bench? Look at it.
Mr KEATING –It is your proposition, my friend. You are the one who comes to listen to it, not us. You have got no interest in it whatsoever. The fact is that, if you are not interested in it and you do not want to hear, that is fine; there is no problem.
Mr Shipton –Sir, I ask you to rule on the point of order that the Treasurer threatened the Chair in his comments about denying an MPI. It was a reflection on the Chair.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER –Order! I ruled that the point of order had no substance. If the honourable member for Higgins insists on taking spurious points of order, I will make a further ruling on him. Has the Treasurer completed his remarks?
Mr KEATING –Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not mind giving the Opposition the time to reply to serious propositions, but if this is what we are to expect from this rabble opposite, if one cannot even be heard and if the interjections persist at this level, the Opposition will not get me to answer its propositions. It is as simple as that.