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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1740

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.21) —Since the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) is taking the unusual course of not giving a second reading speech, I shall take the unusual course of giving it for him. The Minister has circulated a second reading speech headed `Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1986-87' and apparently has decided that he will not give the Senate the benefit of this speech because he was refused leave to incorporate a lengthy answer to a question. This shows an interesting selective judgment on the part of the Minister since several answers to questions ran for about 10 minutes and I did not see any objection being made by the Minister to that procedure. He allowed an extension of some time to Question Time to permit some further questions being asked. But we have had a succession of Question Times in which this year the average number of questions has dropped significantly. It is time that there was some assessment by the Government of its treatment of the Senate.

Senator Button —You are very impressive! You are really in front with this stuff!

Senator CHANEY —If the Minister thinks he can introduce Bills without giving second reading speeches, that is his business. The speech which was circulated by the Government was in these terms:

In Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1986-87 appropriations totalling $127.6m-additional to those made by Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1986-87-are sought for capital works and services, payments to or for the States and the Northern Territory, advances and loans and for other services. The proposed appropriations are needed to meet essential and unavoidable expenditures for which provision was not made in that Act.

The additional appropriations are sought to meet certain cost and price increases which have occurred since the Budget and other requirements which the Government has considered it appropriate to meet this financial year. Areas where significant increases are sought over amounts provided in Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1986-87 are as follows:

Some $16m is provided for Commonwealth assistance under natural disaster relief arrangements mostly attributable to continued large expenditure by Queensland on eligible relief measures following Cyclone Winifred in February 1986 and to estimated expenditure in respect of the floods in the Sydney region in August 1986. The Commonwealth is, therefore, continuing to assist the States to meet their large and unpredictable expenditures on eligible relief measures following the occurrence of natural disasters.

Some $8m is for payment to a trust fund to provide budgetary assistance for Tuvalu, Australia being a principle donor along with the United Kingdom and New Zealand. A treaty is currently being negotiated with a view to having the trust fund in place this financial year. In addition, $7m has been allocated for Solomon Islands post-cyclone reconstruction and partial restoration of South Pacific aid commitments. Realisation of the British Phosphate Commission assets has enabled additional aid to be made available.

Some $13m is included for payments to chemists as a settlement offer to pay out advance paid, unprocessed claims under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Some $8.5m is included for the savings bank deposit interest subsidy. The amount covers an increase in lending by some savings banks this financial year compared with their lending activities in the June quarter last year which were below the rate expected by the Government. This necessitated a repayment earlier this financial year of some of last year's subsidy which fully offsets the additional estimate.

An amount of $7.6m is included for the Northern Territory Electricity Commission to meet increased operational costs as a result of upward movements in oil prices since the Budget estimates. Some $7m for the defence service homes loan program consequent upon the delay in transferring these activities to the private sector.

The speech also reads-I would not want any confusion about who is saying this:

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

That is the end of the speech which was circulated by the Minister but which he declined to give to the Senate. I will now add a few comments of my own. The response to this speech and to the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1986-87, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1986-87 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 1986-87 will be given by the spokesman on finance, Senator Messner, when the debate is resumed at a later time. These Appropriation Bills are being brought forward at a time when the Government has at last conceded that the Budgetary strategy that it adopted in 1986 is seriously flawed. Honourable senators will remember that in September of 1986 the Opposition moved a motion, which was carried, calling upon the Government to introduce a mini-Budget. As early as one month after the Budget we put the view very strongly in this place that the Budget was inappropriate and that, in particular, it involved excessive expenditure which the country could not afford. The Government stoutly resisted that assertion and denied the Opposition's view that the Government's Budget strategy was out of line.

We moved the same motion in February in this year and again the Senate dealt with it. The Opposition asserted that there was a need for a supplementary Budget statement. It was some weeks after the Government had resisted that motion that it agreed that there was a need for a supplementary Budget statement, and the whole of Australia is waiting for the May economic statement which the Government has told us will reduce government expenditure from 1 July this year. That is a very necessary step if Australia is to resume a growth path and if some of the policies which the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce has been pursuing to encourage investment in new industry in Australia are to succeed.

The point I would like to make before resuming my seat is that it is the clear view of the Opposition that as necessary as a May mini-Budget is to adjust the imperfections of the Government's economic policy, the remnants of which are contained in these Appropriation Bills which are before us today, and important as it is that that step should take place, it is the clear view of the Opposition that if the Government does no more than impose additional financial stringency on the Australian people that will not, in itself, solve the problems that this country faces. The reality is that the problems the country faces will be solved only if the Government looks at the whole situation in Australia and is prepared to tackle that situation on a whole basis rather than a piece-meal basis.

We have had many lectures from Senator Button when issues and questions were raised with him that there is no single answer to Australia's problems, and that is the view which the Opposition asserts. We would suggest that the Government needs not only to reduce government expenditure but also to do something about the shape of the tax system which is not conducive to individual effort and nor is it conducive to encouraging investment in this country.

The second area we think needs to be attacked beyond the problems of excessive expenditure and a tax system which is not designed to encourage incentive is that the Government must do something about the trade union movement and about the whole of the labour market's operation in this country.

Senator Georges —What is the trade union movement supposed to be doing at the moment, except in your imagination?

Senator CHANEY —The helpful interjection from Senator Georges is: What is the trade union movement supposed to be doing? I suppose the most recent example that can be pointed to is the difficulties which are being experienced at Port Kembla. I am very concerned that this Government's steel plan, which was given support by the Opposition, is being subverted at the moment by the actions of trade unions at Port Kembla and elsewhere. We have a situation where steel is being imported into Australia because the production and delivery of Australian steel is being delayed by trade union action over what are essentially demarcation disputes.

Senator Button —That's bunkum and you know it; it's just untrue.

Senator CHANEY —The Minister at the table is now taking an interest in the debate, which is good. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether he is satisfied that the steel plan is in fact operating successfully at the moment and whether the trade unions are giving the commitment to improving productivity which was supposedly part of that steel plan. I think the Minister, if he answers honestly, will say that he is not satisfied. The last annual report of the Steel Industry Authority makes it quite clear that there has been a very substantial lift in industrial disputation with respect to the steel industry. Recent reports from Port Kembla and elsewhere show that there are continuing problems.

The simple point that I am making with respect to these Appropriation Bills is that dealing with expenditure alone will not solve the problems of Australia. These other issues, which do so often relate to the abuse of trade union power, also have to be dealt with.

Senator Georges —Have a look at the views of management, too.

Senator CHANEY —Senator Georges, who again is anxious to assist in his new role as an Independent in this place, raises the role of management. I would agree with him. There is a very significant role for management to play if we are to improve the economic performance of Australia. I welcome his intervention because I think he is quite accurate in saying that there is also a heavy onus on management to improve its performance not only in the steel industry but generally.

The third area which the Opposition believes needs substantial attention is regulation of industry. The Government has made some very good noises in this area and, indeed, has done some quite positive things. It has established a regulation review unit. The last publication that I saw from the regulation review unit, which was in the nature of a report to the public and to this Parliament, stated that the cost of business regulation in Australia was somewhere between $40,000m and $80,000m a year. That fairly extraordinary range was the assessment by the Government's own unit of the cost of regulation.

Whilst I readily acknowledge the value of the work that is being done by the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce with respect to seeking uniformity of regulation, whether it is in the food industry, the chemical industry or whatever, I also want to say that at the same time the Government keeps introducing substantial new burdens of regulation which are a very heavy cost for Australian industry to bear. I could do no more than remind the Senate of the fact that the Opposition has voted against a succession of Bills which, in its view, have added to the cost burdens and the complexity of doing business in Australia.

I now refer to the fourth area which, along with the budgetary measures that are currently being considered by this Government, needs attention if we are to have economic recovery. We need to look at the whole question of input costs around Australia and, not least, the costs which are imposed by government itself. We need to look at the charges which are being imposed, not on profits but simply on carrying on a business. A tax such as the fringe benefits tax is one example of new cost burdens on industry. On the other hand, we should look at the inputs which are generally more traditionally regarded as the input costs imposed by government, usually State governments. Let me refer to an area in which again the Minister at the table has responsibility-the manufacturing industry. I am sure that the Minister would have been given the same presentation as I was by a white goods manufacturer who pointed out that the cost of his product had gone up by around 5 per cent a year over a three or four year period and that the cost of electricity supplied by the Government had gone up by just under 15 per cent-I think it was 14.9 per cent.

My point with respect to these Bills is that the budgeting of the Government, the expenditure proposals of the Government, has been a part of its Achilles heel. The excessive expenditure of the last four Budgets is now catching up with Australia and the Australian people. The absurd interest rates which are being paid by home buyers, farmers and small business men are a function of the excessive expenditure of this Government over the last four Budgets. I look forward to the Government starting to wind back in the May statement the disadvantage that it has imposed on Australia. There is nothing that we can do with respect to these Appropriation Bills that will help to improve this situation. These Bills, which will pass through this Parliament untouched, are required to complete the errors that the Government irrevocably put in place in its Budget in August of last year.

I rise not on the basis that we will be opposing this legislation. I rise principally because of the Minister's extraordinary behaviour in refusing to give us a second reading speech on these Bills. I take the opportunity to say that if the Government focuses between now and May only on the expenditure problems which it has created, it will simply condemn Australia to a respectable misery. In other words, there will be no relief for the 25 per cent of young Australians who are unemployed. There will be no relief for the majority of young marrieds who can no longer afford to buy a house. There will be no relief for the farmers who are groaning under the interest rates on debts which were incurred early this decade on the faith of Australia's apparent future and which are now unmanageable and are driving many good farmers from their farms. There will be no relief for any of those Australians who are groaning under the mistakes of this Government. All that I can say is that, whilst I believe it is correct in the national interest that the Government should run its full term, it is a pity that this Government will not be thrown out at an early election.

Debate (on motion by Senator McIntosh) adjourned.