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Thursday, 9 March 1961

Mr McEWEN (Murray) (Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade) . - Mr. Speaker, we have listened to a typical speech by the Leader of the Opposition. I do not know how many times he has charged this Government with gross mismanagement of the country's affairs. We are quite accustomed to the extravagant claims that he makes when he says that great harm has been done, and to his dire predictions that calamity is just around the corner. The Leader of the Opposition and other members of the Australian Labour Party have cried wolf so often in this Parliament that the people are awake to their use of the terms which they adopt for the purposes of their political stunts. Labour finds it much easier to tear down than to build up, and the Leader of the Opposition has a gift - if I may describe his facility as an art - for destructive criticism. He is fluent in making predictions of calamity for his fellow Australians.

All that has emerged from Labour spokesmen, Mr. Speaker, is that in order to avert the disaster which he predicts for his fellow Australians, controls should be adopted as a cure-all. He and his supporters say that controls are what we must have. This is the old and never-changing Labour theme. As the Leader of the Opposition has stated many times, his view is that if we cannot, under the terms of the Australian Constitution under which this country has grown to its present greatness, impose sufficient controls, the Constitution ought to be amended - so that if Labour takes office again it will be more than ever free to live up to its theme by exercising constant and ever more numerous controls.

If the Australian economy were completely self-controlled, Mr. Deputy Speaker, one could think of plotting a simple and straight course, just as the navigator of a steamship does. But if the economy is not controlled, and has some of the characteristics of a sailing ship, you plot your way to your destination with a certain amount of tacking and turning. This analogy is correctly applicable to the Australian economy, which is dependent on overseas earnings in so great a measure as to be not completely self-controlled. We cannot at all times plot a simple and direct course. Inevitably, in circumstances of varying economic fortunes, whoever governs this country is obliged from time to time to modify policy. No measures taken by any Australian government, regardless of its political persuasion, can control the world prices of wool, wheat, lead and the other commodities that are vital to our economy. As I have stated, as we have fluctuations - violent fluctuations - in the values of these important items of our trade, inevitably our policies will have to be modified on occasions. Having said that, I say - I am sure I cannot be challenged - that this Government has done more to lessen the impact of these beyond-Australia world-price circumstances than has any other government. We have managed our economic life by developing our resources and we have in our period of responsibility established an expanding basis to carry an evergrowing and fast-growing Australian population with a high and enviable level of prosperity and with the greatest possible degree of economic stability. I have not the time now to recite the achievements in the Australian scene over the past eleven or twelve years, but every one knows that they are very impressive, by any basis of comparison.

We want growth and prosperity; we are determined to have them. We do not want to boast that we have perfect price and cost stability gained at the cost of widespread unemployment. We do not want to boast that in this country there are jobs galore through reckless indifference to inflation. We have always pursued a bal anced course and I am sure the Australian people recognize this. We do not ever want to boast that we have illimitable and mounting reserves of overseas currency gained at the cost of stifling restrictions of trade within Australia. We do not want to boast that profit-making here is high because of opportunities for unbridled speculation and engagement in nonessential industries. We want what we are sure the Australian people want, and what we have achieved is the development of our country with stability and without the stifling of enterprise.

The Government that is now under attack is the Government that has sustained this progress and this development of our country and of our natural resources. This is the same Government under which there has been an unchallengable period of unparalleled industrial development. This is the same Government under which there has been an enormous expansion of rural production and rural prosperity. This is the same Government under which the population of Australia has grown at a rate that would have provoked laughter had one predicted it twenty years ago. This is the same Government that has generated for the Australian people a level of constancy of employment and a height and generality of prosperity that is the envy of the world. This results in many people overseas looking at Australia and saying, " This is the place to which I want to go to establish my new life". People by the million say this when they view the circumstances that have been generated by the policies of this Government and the parties that support it. This is the Government that has produced the situation in which Australia is recognized by shrewd and experienced investors and industrialists around the world as the best country on earth for investments. This is the Government that has managed the affairs of the country to the point at which all Australians - Labour. Liberal and Country Party - are proud to boast of it daily, except on an occasion such as this.

We have done this by a complexity of policies. When wheat has been unsaleable and when butter on overseas markets has been at give-away prices, there have been stabilization schemes to invoke. These schemes have been so effective that the

Australian economy has been unaware of the grave marketing problems that have occurred from time to time. When a crop of wheat has been delivered whilst the last crop remains unsold, has there been any calamity or any loss of confidence? No! The policies of the Government have come into operation. When butter has been at deplorably low .prices, as it is in London at this moment and as it was two years ago, has there been any panic in the dairy industry or any thought that dairy farmers are not credit-worthy? No! The policies of the Government have applied over the whole field of dairying. The policies of the Government have been effective in insulating the Australian economy from grievous harm resulting from these circumstances overseas, which, as overseas circumstances, frankly we cannot control.

When circumstances in Australia have combined to threaten the security of employment here, this is the Government that has proposed to the Parliament a budget cinder which on one occasion £110,000,000 was injected into the economy through the instrument of the Budget alone to provide security of employment and continuity of profit-making by many of those who to-day attack us. I do not remember any one on such an occasion as I have mentioned saying that these are stop and go policies. Those whose jobs were made secure and those whose profits were sustained did not go out yelling politically or writing leading articles in which they said that this was terrible. They were very glad to enjoy the benefits that flowed from the policies of the Government. Now when inflation threatens the stability of our progress and our prosperity this is the same Government to-day that, having injected money into the economy, is siphoning off the dangerous inflationary surplus. If we apply the same economic philosophies now as we did when we injected credit to sustain our stability, we are told suddenly that we have a stop and go policy. T say that there is nothing stop and go in the objectives of the policies of this Government. They are absolutely constant and have been constantly effective.

In the recent period, two factors have emerged to menace the continuity of the steady development of Australia. First has been the occurrence of inflationary pressures and the second has been the acute character of the balance of payments problem, to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred. Let me take the balance of payments problem first. It is more apparent and more understandable. While there are sectors of the community who frankly feel that they are shrewd enough to benefit by inflation, the community at large recognizes that no national economy can sustain an adverse balance of payments situation indefinitely. Let me give a simple illustration. How would a worker and his wife manage the family budget if they never knew what the pay cheque would be - if one week it was up 30 per cent, from the normal and the next week down 30 per cent, from the normal? Would not the trader with whom they did their budgeting business say that these people were engaged in a stop and go buying policy? Would not the same sort of thing apply if there was that violence of fluctuation in the experience of a business? Of course there must be modifications. We can understand it in the domestic scene. If domestically there were these violent fluctuations in the wage packet, the dreams of buying a house and furnishing it would become a nightmare for the average person.

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