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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 892


Mr GOODLUCK —My question is directed to the Minister for Science and Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. Does the Minister remember the two now famous quotes from the 1983 Federal election campaign-one by the present Prime Minister, who said `We will reduce the price of petrol by 2 cents a litre'; and the second by the present Treasurer: `The price of petrol is taxation by stealth at the petrol pump.'? Is the Minister further aware that the price of petrol in this country has increased by an average of 13 cents a litre since his Government was elected? As the Minister responsible for prices, what does he intend to do to overcome this problem affecting the poor, the needy and the ordinary consumers of Australia?


Mr BARRY JONES —I thank the honourable member for Franklin for his question. What I do remember is that when we came into office in 1983 we inherited a fiscal mess, presided over by the now Leader of the Opposition-the most tragic Treasurer that this country has had since Sir Earle Page and who left us with a $9.5 billion Budget deficit. That was kept under the counter. There was no suggestion when we came in that we faced a problem of anything like that size. Those opposite know perfectly well-and we have said it so often in this House that they must have picked it up-that this country still has the third lowest petrol price of any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Honourable members are aware of that. We ought to be going out and selling the record of this Government in our electorates so that people face up to the fact that on the matter of petrol pricing the attitude and policy of the Government has been responsible.

The honourable member for Franklin, in the last part of his question-which was very important-said: `What about our responsibility to the poor and the needy?'. We are attempting to co-ordinate all the activities so far as price surveillance is concerned by having a proper consumer affairs bureau which will co-ordinate all the activities with the States. I look for the co-operation of the Tasmanian Government, the Queensland Government and the Northern Territory Government in making sure that we manage to keep prices under control. It is the poor, the people on fixed incomes and the people on lower than average weekly earnings who are affected most adversely by a $5 variation in a basket of goods that they get from a supermarket. If those opposite want to bring about substantial economic justice for the people at the lower end of the socio-economic pyramid, they ought to support what we are trying to do. However, we find that the party leader of those opposite-at least for the time being the leader-says that as far as he is concerned he wants a wage freeze, which would also impose severe constraints on those lower income earners, but that as far as prices are concerned he would abolish the Prices Surveillance Authority and `let 'er rip'. That is not our policy; that is not justice; that is not restraint with equity. We are on about fairness, to restore a proper quality of life to people on lower income levels, and if the honourable member opposite is dinkum about supporting the poor he ought to get right behind what we are doing.