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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1360


Mr HAWKER —My question is to the Minister for Science and Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. In his interview with Mr Laurie Oakes on Channel 9 the Sunday before last, the Minister agreed with Mr Oakes that the power of persuasion is the primary power he has at this stage in his responsibilities as Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. I ask the Minister: If his powers of persuasion prove ineffectual, what is the next stage in his Don Quixote ride against rising prices?


Mr BARRY JONES —Don Quixote never lacked the support of a donkey. I am not discouraged by the slightly negative and sceptical response in certain segments of the Parliament or indeed in the Press Gallery. The most effective role that can be played in the job given to me by the Prime Minister is to restore consumer sovereignty, by creating a situation where individual consumers are able to be adequately informed so that they can make appropriate decisions for themselves about choosing where they shop and the range of goods that they want to acquire. As I said the other day, it is astonishing that to some extent we are all disciples of Adam Smith nowadays. Remember, Smith said that market forces have to operate on the basis of perfect information. Now, there is not perfect information so that consumers can make appropriate choices for themselves.

I am impressed by the success of the price watch committees set up now in more than 30 Federal electorates. They are creating a situation where the consumer says: `It suits my interest to be able to go to shop A rather than shop B for particular lines of merchandise'. People then have to decide for themselves whether the marginal convenience of getting all their goods in one supermarket outweighs getting a more competitive price somewhere else.

The cynicism with which this exercise has been approached by members of the Opposition suggests that they have an absolute contempt for consumers and that they have an absolute contempt for people at the lower end of the socio-economic pyramid, those people who are on fixed incomes and pensions and to whom a small variant in the price of the goods that they buy for their families is very significant. As far as we are concerned, we will continue. I have got every confidence that there will be close co-operation with all State administrations, and I specifically include the Queensland and Tasmanian governments as well. Unfortunately, Mr Dale, the Northern Territory Minister, is in New Zealand and I have not been able to talk to him yet. But there is a recognition that State by State people in their own communities, local areas and towns are worried by price levels and are grateful for the kind of information which enables them to get the best return and which brings fairness into the market-place.

Honourable members opposite all recognise the need for restraint in the price of labour. Goods are just another area where price restraint should be applied. Equity demands that, if we have that restraint in prices for labour, it ought to apply to goods as well. As a result, I believe we will continue with success. The job is partly a matter of persuasion, partly a matter of information and partly a matter of co-ordination.

I am looking forward to strong support from the Prices Surveillance Authority and the new Consumer Affairs Bureau, the main point of which is to make sure that people get better value for money out of their goods. It is not just a matter of price; it is also a matter of asking `Is the quality there? Are the goods fresh? Is there proper dating for the commodities with a limited shelf life?', and so on. I believe that we can achieve a great deal. I believe that the sincerity with which we are doing it is recognised by the voters in the community.