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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Leader of the Opposition) -by leave- The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has just disclosed his latest hasty and ill-conceived response to the worsening economic situation under his Government. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch), who has shown himself incompetent in managing one economic department, is to be rewarded with two. The Prime Minister tells us that one of the reasons for these changes is to make more manageable the Treasurer's heavy workload. We can sympathise with the Treasurer in his current burdens. It is difficult, however, to see how his load will be lightened by giving him responsibility for an extra department in addition to the one he has now and expecting him to co-ordinate them both. Last Sunday week the Government announced the creation of a mysterious and highly questionable Department of Productivity. In so doing it added one more department to the mass of existing departments concerned with industry. Now it is adding one more department to the mass of departments concerned with economic policy. There are, in fact, now to be no fewer than 9 federal departments involved in economic and related issues. We are not told which is to be the supreme department, if any; we are not told which is to co-ordinate the work of the others.

The Government has created this new bureaucracy by the simple expedient of splitting the existing Treasury in two. There are to be 2 departments, 2 hierarchies, 2 bureaucracies, 2 sets of policies and responsibilities, but only one Minister. What we certainly will not be getting after all this cosmetic surgery is a department responsible for the long term setting of priorities. That is the urgent need at the moment and the urgent need for the future. Such a need was recognised by the Coombs report which my

Government commissioned. Such a department was specifically recommended by that report We had a right to expect that the Government would act on that recommendation or at least acknowledge it. It has rejected the advice of the Coombs Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. It has given us no reasons for doing so. The Prime Minister mentioned that careful consideraton had been given to the Coombs report. He gave the misleading implication that that report provided some justification for this decision. It does not.

The Prime Minister also told us that the decision reflects the outcome of the report of the Administrative Review Committee- the Bland Committee. The House has no way of knowing what the Bland Committee recommended or the arguments it advanced since its report, like most others commissioned and received by the Fraser Government, has not been published. The only report made public on these questions advises against the course the Government has taken. The Prime Minister spoke truly, if clumsily, when he said in reply to a question yesterday:

This Government is not in the habit of acting upon a published report.

He can say that again! The Australian Labor Party sees the need for a new department to give advice on long term economic priorities. Our platform provides for it. The Coombs Royal Commission recommended it. I myself promised it in a statement made on 18 October. We believe there is a clear need for expert, full time guidance for Australian governments on the country's major economic problems and future directions. If anything has shown the need for such a department it is the floundering economic policy of this Government in the past 12 months and its total inability to follow through the first signs of economic recovery, apparent a year ago. Instead we are given a proliferating bureaucracy and a shabby piece of typical Liberal window dressing which adds nothing new to the range of advice available to the Australian Government.

Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.

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