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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1257

Mr CARLTON(3.05) —May I make it absolutely clear from the start of this debate that the Opposition regards rising prices, rising as they are in Australia at a rate four times the average of overseas countries, as no joke. We are very serious about rising prices. We regard it as no joke and that is why we are drawing the attention of this House and the Australian people to the absolute farce surrounding the Government's handling of this question of rising prices. That is what we are talking about. We are not saying that price rises of 10 per cent, when they are 2 per cent everywhere else in the world, are a joke. We are not saying that interest rates of 15 or 20 per cent in Australia are a joke when elsewhere they are rising at half that rate. We do not think this is a joke, but the Government appears to think it is a joke.

The Government has made an absolute farce of the whole matter with the appointment of the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) as the Minister assisting everybody around the place on prices but with no authority even to answer a question on the subject in the House. We think that it is disgraceful that this has come about and we intend to protest up and down the land until this farcical appointment is ended. Just to show what the Australian people think about this we looked at the Mackay report, which is a report on how Australian families feel about family life. The latest edition of that report came out in September last year. In it people are quoted as making a number of significant comments about their feelings about the current situation-how they feel about their families and how they are coping. These are some of the quotations:

Money is becoming a really big point in our house. We are supposed to be comfortably off, but even the necessities are costing more and luxuries are out of the question.

Another quote:

We reckoned that when we had built the house we would be able to lie back and enjoy it. But we are flat out keeping up the repayments and just maintaining a decent lifestyle.

Another quote:

The way things are going, I really will have to win Lotto. That's my only hope! I'm paid fortnightly, and it's getting harder to make it stretch for the two weeks.

These are quotations in the Mackay Report from ordinary families and ordinary people-a scientific report not produced by the Opposition and available to the Government. It is one of the reasons why those opposite became dead scared about public reaction to prices. Also, from some of these quotes it is clear that people understand where the blame lies for prices going up. Another respondent says:

Our standard of living is dropping, even though people don't really accept it yet. You would think that, with all the experts around, we would never have got into this situation. Keating hasn't got a clue-he was supposed to be the world's greatest Treasurer and then he told us we were in a banana republic . . . that tells us how much he knew about what was really going on.

That is the sort of information that is coming through to the Government as well as to the Opposition showing that people are fed to the teeth of living in a country which is supposed to be a resource-rich country. It is supposed to be a well-off country, yet people find that prices in this country are going up at four times the rate of everywhere else-and they are fed to the teeth. Quite rightly, the Government is scared as hell about this because it is frightened that it will pay the price at the polls. But there is another reason for the appointment of this Minister to this farcical position. I will just quote from an article in the Australian newspaper on 3 February. It is headed: `Keating faces the price of unions' co-operation'. Here we have it. This is where the real pressure is coming from. It states:

Confronted by union demands for price restraint, the federal Treasurer, Mr Keating, yesterday agreed to look at ways to limit price inflation.

The President of the ACTU-

again calling the shots-

Mr Simon Crean, has said that unless the Government can control prices the trade union movement will not be able to guarantee a continuing commitment to wage restraint.

The Treasurer (Mr Keating) knows jolly well that the Government cannot control prices with a magic wand after it has made them go up over a period of three or four years. The Government knows that all the mistakes it made in its Bud- gets in its first two years of office cannot suddenly be reversed by the appointment of a single Minister or the setting up of new statutory machinery. It knew from the very start that it was unable, in the short term, to undo the havoc it had caused with its profligate Budgets of 1983 and 1984. It knew that it was locked in to high prices and high interest rates because of its economic policy failures. Therefore, the only thing it could do was a bit of window dressing to make it look good. The Age newspaper puts its finger on this matter in an editorial on St Patrick's Day when it stated:

Union officials and some MPs have spoken of controlling prices as if it were possible for the economy to be legislated back to health and stability. Prices have been looked at in isolation from wages, manufacturing costs, currency fluctuations, government charges, excises and taxes.

The article may have added interest rates. It continued:

The view has been put around that workers are doing their bit by accepting wage moderation but that employers are not sharing the load. These are potentially dangerous beliefs which misrepresent the function of prices.

All that is perfectly well known to the Government; it is perfectly well known to the Treasurer and it is also perfectly well known to the Minister for Science. However the Government had this difficulty. It was trying to get some sort of settlement in the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission following the collapse of the accord and, typically, it kowtowed to union pressure by putting up this sham, this nonsense, of pretending to have some effect on prices when the horse had truly bolted from the stable. Let us follow the progress of this mess. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), in a speech to the National Press Club on 13 March, said what he was going to do about prices. He stated:

The Government's initiative on prices and consumer affairs comprises four main elements: enlargement of the Price Watch network, expansion of the task of the Prices Surveillance Authority-

it has no substance yet-

establishment of a new Bureau of Consumer Affairs-

a new government body-

and assignment of a minister to spearhead these new efforts to achieve the lowest possible prices and better consumer protection.

What humbug! It is a whole speech with four main initiatives but what do they add up to? They add up to the enlargement of price watch networks-heaven forbid, that is the granny network; expansion of the task of the Prices Surveillance Authority, which has no authority; the establishment of a new Bureau of Consumer Affairs, which will mean more public servants; and the assignment of a Minister assisting everybody else to spearhead, heaven forbid-what a spear; what a head!-these new efforts to achieve the lowest possible prices and better consumer protection. The Prime Minister went on to say, and this is the priceless bit:

The final element of today's initiative is the assignment of a minister to supervise these new arrangements.

I have decided that Mr Barry Jones, the Minister for Science, should take on this vital task.

Bear in mind that this is economic wartime and here is our new Churchill. The Prime Minister continued:

Barry Jones is to be appointed Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices-


and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Consumer Affairs. This will give him direct political and public responsibility for the issues covered by the Prices Surveillance Authority and the new Bureau of Consumer Affairs.

In effect, Barry will be the Prices Minister, charged with the oversight of the measures I have just announced, to renew the fight for the lowest possible prices and ensure a fair go for consumers.

Those were the bold words of the Prime Minister. Only a few days down the line in the Sydney Morning Herald was a headline `Minister for rising prices checks out the supermarkets'. On the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald is a brilliant picture of the Minister and the headline `Meet the Minister for Puffed Wheat'. This is the Minister who is the spearhead of this fight against prices. I had the opportunity of looking at the video tape. If any honourable members missed this opportunity they really ought to go to the Parliamentary Library and look at it. Owing to the wonders of science that have been put forward by this Minister in the past, one is able to view again the spectacle of the Minister on the Sunday program and it was splendid. Let me quote it. Jim Waley, in his introduction, stated:

On the surface you couldn't imagine a stranger appointment-a man with one of the country's finest brains, a scientific whiz, a walking encyclopaedia, a man with, I think it's fair to say, little of the common touch, assigned the mundane task of controlling supermarket prices. But that's perhaps the genius of Barry Jones appointment as Minister with responsibility for prices surveillance.

The genius of it-heavens above! We know that Dr Frankenstein was thought of as a genius and look at what he produced. Let me continue. The well known Mr Laurie Oakes stated:

Well, we're very pleased. Mr Jones, I guess the obvious question is why you. I suggested to the Prime Minister on Friday that your main qualification for this, perhaps, was your well-known ability to talk under wet cement. That's a bit unkind, but isn't there a fair bit of truth in it?

The Minister replied:

No, not at all.

He continued:

I have been very impressed by the-I was going to say the Waste Watch Committee, I've got to be careful not to say that-the Price Watch Committee-

Mr Downer —It is a great committee.

Mr CARLTON —As the honourable member for Mayo says, the Waste Watch Committee is a great committee. Had that Committee not been established one of the pressures for the setting up of this monstrous nonsense would not have been there. That is why the Minister, in a Freudian slip-he had the Waste Watch Committee on his mind; the Government is scared stiff of it, terrorised by Senator Michael Baume, the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) and his colleagues--

Mr Howard —And the honourable member for Parkes.

Mr CARLTON —And the honourable member for Parkes and that is why the Minister made that slip. The Minister continued:

. . . if you give somebody $100 and then send them out to get a particular basket of goodies from 300 different outlets in Perth . . . this is where you get the best value.

He was explaining the wondrous ways of price watch committees. Laurie Oakes said:

Well, that's all very well, but you're going to use pensioners for these price watch committees.

The Minister replied:

You're going to use citizens.

Mr Laurie Oakes stated:

I bet the average pensioner would love to see $100, Mr Jones.

The Minister replied:

No, no, it's not that you give them, it's not that you give them $100 and say: Go away and spend it. It's a matter of saying: If you have $100 to get a particular set of goods, where do you get change out of that $100.

Apparently that is what one says to the pensioners. However, Mr Oakes was not to be put off. He stated:

But isn't there something just a bit unsavoury about using pensioners to monitor the prices of things that they can't afford to buy?

The transcript continues:

BARRY JONES: Well I think, first of all, I think it's wrong to target pensioners per se.

LAURIE OAKES: Well Mr Hawke did. He specifically mentioned them.

BARRY JONES: Well, I didn't write his speech.

Helpfully, he then advised the Prime Minister:

It might have been better to refer to members of the community as well.

I could go on, but what happened? This week day after day in the Parliament, the Opposition has asked questions about rising prices. I asked about the increasing prices of motor cars. I happen to have a copy of Modern Motor from 1983 and the other day I bought another one which gave the current prices. In 1983 the magazine cost me $2 and it cost me $3 this week, a 50 per cent increase. I did not mention that fact out of kindness to the Minister; all I mentioned was the fact that a Ford Laser 1.3L was about $7,000 when we left office and it is about $12,000 now. It has gone up 53 per cent. I ask the Minister: What is he going to do about this increase which is a very basic cost for the average family? A 1.3L Laser is not a Rolls Royce, and the Minister could not answer my question about it. This situation happened two or three times. The next time he was asked a question the Treasurer jumped up like a ferret out of a hole, pushed him aside-the Minister for Science was monumentally embarrassed-and gave us a serve of his usual contemptible and contemptuous abuse. That is all we will get out of this Minister for not being able to answer questions on prices. Every time we ask a question on prices, two Ministers jump up-the Minister for Science and somebody else. Today the Minister miserably explained that he can answer questions on things that really do not matter. It is the other things for which the other Ministers are responsible that he will not be allowed to answer questions on. This Government has a lot to answer for on prices. We want to know and we ask the Minister why prices in Australia have gone up at four times the rate that they have overseas. If it is as a result of the failure of Government economic policy, then what is it the result of? What has caused prices in Australia to go up at 10 per cent, as opposed to 2 per cent everywhere else? Can the Minister answer that question? If he cannot he should not be holding this farcical position and he should resign.