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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1458

Mr ROBERT BROWN(3.30) —First of all, I express some degree of concern for the actual wording of this matter of supposed public importance which has been raised by the Opposition. I do not believe that the wording of the matter of public importance was devised by the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) who has put forward the position of the Opposition on this matter. The wording of this matter of public importance simply does not make any sense. It is in these terms:

The threat posed to economic management by the Prime Minister's delusions of support from the business community for the economic policies of his Government.

I waited to get some indication from the comments of the honourable member for Bennelong as to exactly what was meant by that. For example, I did not know whether the alleged delusions by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) represented some threat to economic management, or whether some alleged lack of support from the business community was posing some threat to economic management. I take it from the comments made by the honourable member for Bennelong that the second of those alternatives is the preferred interpretation.

Let us have a look at it. I am quite happy to go along with that interpretation and to respond to some of the issues raised by the honourable member for Bennelong in defence of it. I think it is important for us to realise that the most important single document, the most important single measure, the most important single approach which has been made by the present Government in relation to economic questions, economic management and economic strategies is of course the Federal Budget that was introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) in August of this year. It is also important for us to realise that the Budget, while it is the most important single document, is only part of a total package of economic measures which have been taken by this Government, part of a total sensible, coherent, integrated, co-ordinated and consistent approach to economic management.

I will refer to some of them. First of all, there is the fundamental importance , as far as this Government is concerned, of the prices and incomes accord and the important role which it will play in an attempt to attack simultaneously the problems of inflation and unemployment. The honourable member for Bennelong quite correctly referred to the fact that the previous Government made the control of inflation its primary objective. He criticised the fact that this Government has chosen to adopt measures which are designed, as I say, to attempt simultaneously to overcome the problems of inflation and unemployment. It ill becomes any spokesman for the previous Government, the present Opposition, to suggest to us that we should adopt and continue the policies which it asserted and declared were policies which, according to it, would be most effective in bringing about a reduction in inflation.

Let us examine just how successful the former Government was in pursuing this primary, fundamental, basic, first, priority objective-the control of inflation by the adoption of the measures which it pursued. These measures were adopted over a period of seven years and were responsible for creating a situation where the Australian people had never in the history of Australia been more savagely attacked, mauled and disadvantaged as a result of measures adopted by any former government. But that former Government, the present Opposition, made the control of inflation its primary objective.

Let us examine how successful it was. In the last full year of the former Labor Government-that is, from September 1974 until September 1975-the rate of inflation was 12.1 per cent. Following that period, as I say, there were seven years of savage mauling of the Australian people when increasingly more and more people were sacrifices at the altar of those ill-conceived, ill-considered and ill-implicated policies of that Government. Let us take the comparable period for this former Government. I refer to the period from September 1981 until September 1982 which is comparable with the period in 1974-75 when the rate of inflation was 12.1 per cent. What was it in the comparable period of this former Government? It was 12.3 per cent. The former Treasurer, the man who is responsible to a very large extent for devising those economic policies, is responsible for that rate of inflation. Certainly with all of the advice that was available to him and with the support of all honourable members on that side of the House who sat with him on the front bench and sat behind him, the honourable member for Bennelong has the gall to come into this chamber and suggest that this Government would be pursuing more appropriate economic policies if it were to pursue the same type of economic policies which were responsible for those disastrous seven years of the Fraser Government.

I said that the Budget formed only one part of a total, coherent and co- ordinated approach to economic management. What have been some of the other approaches? In addition to the prices and incomes accord, to which I referred, this is a necessary component of the alternative economic and more expansionary approach which has been taken by this Government in order to bring back increasingly, as the months progress, into employment some of those 750,000 officially unemployed people in Australia. I refer to the 1 1/2 million people who are, in reality, unemployed. If we take into account the disguised unemployed, the hidden unemployed, the people who were working part time and would prefer to work full time-if we take into account all of them-there are 1 1 /2 million unemployed in reality in Australia. Those people can, to a very large extent, trace the cause, the precipitation of their present deprived economic circumstances to those ill-considered, ill-conceived, ill-devised and unfortunately-applied policies of the former Government.

Other aspects of the economic approach which has been taken by this Government place it in a position of marked contrast with its predecessors who, prior to the election-I refer particularly to the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock)-like their leader in the weeks leading up to the last election on 5 March, were prepared to make statements in the public arena to the Australian nation which could have nothing but severe and damaging impacts and severe and damaging effects on the Australian economy. How irresponsible, how absolutely cynical that there were references on that occasion to putting one's savings under the bed. Consider the impact that could have had on the whole Australian financial system. What did the present Leader of the Opposition do on that occasion? He speculated about the possibility of devaluation. I will quote one of the statements which that irresponsible man made on that occasion. I refer to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 March. The report was written by John Short, who referred to a Press conference in Canberra which had taken place on 8 March. He wrote:

When asked how he had reached the conclusion that a 15 per cent develuation was necessary, Mr Peacock said-

I will quote what Mr Peacock said. Honourable members should listen to these words and note to the incredible expression from the present Leader of the Opposition. He said:

'A number of us met on the matter and made calculations-

Can honourable members imagine these people all plugging away on their little calculators?

that it would be in the order of 10 or 15 and would be more likely to be 15 per cent.

John Short went on:


that is, the present Leader of the Opposition, that irresponsible man--

would not say who had provided him with this advice.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition persisted in maintaining that he had acted responsibly. The honourable member for Bennelong, the former Treasurer and present Opposition spokesman on Treasury matters, said that it was his practice never to make comments about the value of the dollar. I know that that was an attempt on the part of the honourable member for Bennelong to adopt a responsible position. Did he persist with it? He then went on:

What I will do is express a strong view that an ALP government will frighten foreign investors.

So these people were all party to it-the former Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition and Mr Valder-in New South Wales. Mr Valder admitted that he had advised his clients to send their money out of Australia. That money flowed out of Australia, with very severe damage to Australia's economy. The point I am leading up to is that in light of that speculation which had been fuelled by these supposedly responsible people presently on the Opposition benches- speculation about the value of this nation's currency which caused an outflow of something like $3 billion of speculative funds immediately before the election- this Government, within the first few days of being elected, took action to devalue the currency; a one-off measure. We accepted the flexible pegging arrangement, the day-by-day adjustment, but we were not prepared to allow the value of this nation's currency or our international standing to be damaged as a result of the speculation by people who now appropriately sit on the Opposition benches. So we had that one-off measure, that immediate 10 per cent devaluation. It ended the speculation and, within the next week, about $3,000m flowed back into Australia. Of course, as a result of the speculation which was fuelled by the Opposition a great number of people at that time made massive profits.

We did a similar thing about a week ago when we increased the value of the Australian dollar, again to bring about a reduction in the degree of speculative inflow which was taking place. So we have acted in numerous areas. It has been suggested that there is some deficiency in the degree of support for the measures that we have adopted. Who makes the claim that there is some deficiency in the degree of support for this Government's economic initiatives, its economic strategy and its total package of economic policies? The people, of course, are exclusively those who sit on the Opposition benches-those people who masquerade and parade as the captains of industry, those people who parade as the monarchs of capitalism, those people who parade as the pillars of the commercial and the financial world. They are nothing of the kind. Some of those who identify themselves as chartered accountants are failed bookkeepers. Some of those who identify themselves as solicitors and barristers are suburban lawyers. Some of those who identify themselves as primary producers and graziers are small time farmers. Some of those who identify themselves as company directors are shopkeepers.

So let us put to rest the claim by these people on the Opposition side that they are the pillars of the commercial and financial world. They are nothing of the kind. Not only are they not what they purport to be in connection with their personal business achievements and involvements, but also they are not even what they also purport to be-decent, efficient, capable or competent economic managers. They are not even economic managers. Increasingly, those people who sit on the Opposition benches have the gall to come into this House and make some criticism of this Government's economic performance, of the degree of support which undoubtedly exists through the broad spectrum of the Australian community and in all areas of Australian economic activity and of the massive support for the continuing economic policies of this Government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.