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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1083

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. I refer him to the reported statements of the Chairman of Coles-Myer, Mr Bevan Bradbury, whose comments on prices are of some interest because Coles-Myer is the largest retailer in Australia, and to the fact that Mr Bradbury has said that the Government `should look in the mirror if they want to find the price rise culprits'. Mr Bradbury made reference to the fact that whilst the company's profits have gone up by 16.7 per cent the amount paid to the Government has risen by 40 per cent. Is the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices, or indeed any other Minister, examining the extent to which government taxes and charges are responsible for rising prices? What action, if any, is the Government taking to reduce its contribution to rising prices?

Senator BUTTON —I did see reports of the statement by Mr Bradbury. I thought he said `governments'-plural. Senator Chaney said `government' in his question.

Senator Chaney —Yes, he did. I said `governments'.

Senator BUTTON —No, the honourable senator said `government' in his question. He asked me: What has the Government done about it? He said that the Government should look in the mirror. Mr Bradbury said `governments'. There is a very important distinction and I draw it to Senator Chaney's attention straightaway. There are impositions from State governments as well as the Federal Government. If one asks representatives of the Queensland mining industry, with whom I had a meeting last week, about State government charges and the costs of production of coal, they will say that for one company alone it is a burden of $150m a year.

Senator Chaney —The people burning their little coal fires in Melbourne are really feeling that. It has nothing to do with domestic prices.

Senator BUTTON —In a rather roundabout way that is probably true. At this stage I do not wish to give Senator Chaney a lecture that he would not understand on the effects of the balance of trade on domestic prices and inflation. Perhaps I will at some other time. I saw what Mr Bevan Bradbury said. It was a very fair comment to make. There has been a lot of publicity about particular retail outlets, and so on. I think the important thing is that we would like to see overall attention to price restraint in the community on a voluntary basis. I hope that companies will pay attention to that issue, just as governments must. I will direct the last part of the question to the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices and obtain an answer.