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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 577


Senator MAGUIRE(3.12) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The 1983-84 report of the Economic Planning Advisory Council is a milestone in public life in Australia. It is in fact the first annual report of the Economic Planning Advisory Council. The Council was established as the result of an election pledge by the Hawke Labor Government in 1983 to set up planning machinery in Australia. That concept was embraced by the Australian people. EPAC is a body comprising all levels of government in Australia-State, local and Federal-trade unions, business organisations including small business, welfare bodies and the rural sector. Currently, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania are members of EPAC. Apart from the Council, to which I have referred, there is the secretariat. It is currently funded for a staff of 50 during the current financial year.

The Economic Planning Advisory Council had its origin in the Australian Labor Party's national economic policy committee of the late 1970s. As a rank and file member of the Australian Labor Party at that stage, I was very fortunate to be one of the members of the policy committee which devised the concept of planning machinery in Australia, which ultimately led to the establishment of EPAC. Previously, Australia had been far out of line with most of the other developed economies of the world, those countries with which we normally compare ourselves. In this country we had simply no planning machinery, apart from the period immediately after the Second World War. There was no economic planning machinery in this country other than at that time. Our relatively poor performance since World War II to some extent can be linked to this absence of a planning machinery. We need to look only at the performance of those countries that have had some economic planning machinery to see how much more rapidly their per capita incomes have grown in the decades since the 1940s compared to those of Australia. Our performance has been quite woeful in terms of per capita income increases over that period.

EPAC has constituted Australia's first economic planning mechanism. It first met in July 1983. As I have indicated, there is a vital need for planning mechanisms in advanced societies because the market mechanism does not work in all cases. It certainly does not allocate resources efficiently in all cases. I simply refer to the role of planning authorities in preparing long term forecasts and in monitoring medium to longer term trends, in disseminating information throughout the economy and in helping decision makers to make better decisions. That is a very important and basic aspect of planning.

Since the development of EPAC we now also have a second, perhaps somewhat more restricted, form of planning. The introduction of the trilogy concept-that is, regulating government expenditure and government revenues in relation to gross domestic product-is a form of economic planning imposed on the public sector of this country.

Much of the work which has been done by EPAC so far has been in looking at policies and assessing the scope for cutting unemployment. In the last 17 months there has been some success in reducing unemployment. It has been cut from a peak of 10.4 per cent, seasonally adjusted, in September 1983 to a level now of 8.3 per cent. While there has been a 2.1 per cent reduction in unemployment, I believe that it is still unacceptably high. I am pleased that EPAC has given a great deal of attention to consideration of a series of measures designed to alleviate some of the social costs associated with unemployment. During 1983-84, for example, EPAC has done work on the need for higher school retention rates. It has looked at alternative life styles, job sharing, part time work and early retirement. All these matters should be on the agenda although they do not find favour in all quarters. At the very least, they should be looked at.

EPAC now has a very key role in preparing for the run-up to the national tax summit in July. It is now collating and compiling submissions for the tax summit and for the White Paper which will be published by the Government in anticipation of that summit. EPAC, at its March 1984 meeting, pointed out that there were serious shortcomings in the present taxation system. It said that piecemeal reform of taxation was no good and that there was a need for a comprehensive package of measures. I trust that it will come out of the national tax summit.