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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr HASLUCK (Curtin) (Minister for Territories) . - It was very refreshing to hear the closing sentences of the speech of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), because those closing sentences contained - and I compliment him on it - the only forthright statement of Opposition policy that this House has been privileged to hear throughout the debate.

Mr Bryant - This is the first time you have been in the House.

Mr HASLUCK - I have been in the House almost continuously throughout the debate, and when I have not been in the House I have gone to the trouble of reading the " Hansard " record. I say that this is the first time we have had a clear and forthright statement, except for an occasional utterance by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and others, about what the Opposition would do. The honorable member for East Sydney has said that the Opposition, if in power, would do four things. First, it would put import restrictions back. In reply to that, I say quite plainly that it is not the intention of the Government to follow that course. Secondly, he said, there should be a review of the unused capacity of industry in Australia. I think that that is a useful suggestion which would commend itself to the Government and is one that we would follow up. Then, the two most interesting suggestions he made were: Thirdly, that powers should be taken to this Parliament so that it could control prices, profits and capital issues; and there are obviously fellow socialists on the Opposition side who commend that suggestion. Fourthly, he said, we should form a national shipping line for overseas trade. In these two suggestions, he has pointed a very clear contrast between the Opposition and the Government, a contrast which the electors of Australia will need to note and on which the electors of Australia must be the final judges. He has put forward two intensely socialist proposals - proposals for control, proposals for State monopolies - which are not in any way acceptable to the present Government, as we are a Liberal-Country Party Government which rejects that form of socialist planning.

In order to try to draw together some of the things that have been said in this debate, I want to come back to the point that we are engaged in a debate on a no-confidence motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). I need not remind honorable members that a vote on this motion will be taken to-night. If by chance that vote be carried affirmatively, it would mean that this Government should resign; and the consequence would be either an attempt to form an alternative government from the honorable members opposite or an appeal to the electors of Australia. Because those are the possible final results of the vote that will be taken in this House to-night, we have to regard this motion in quite a serious and solemn way and try to see it clearly.

In moving the no-confidence motion, the Leader of the Opposition stated certain grounds on which he claimed the Government had lost the confidence of this Parliament and of the country. The first of those grounds - I think I am being completely fair to him in stating it in this way - was that the Government had failed to protect the Australian economy. I want to make two comments on that. The first is that this Government has never minimized, at any time during the past ten years, the difficulty of the economic situation with which Australia has to deal. We do not go in for any foolish optimism. We do not belittle in any way the difficulties that we have to encounter. The second remark I want to make is that the protection of the Australian economy is not something that can be done by a single act on a single day. It is a continuous process that has to go on year by year, patiently, wisely and courageously, so that we get changing methods for changing situations with a clear objective of protecting the Australian economy. If we look back on the continuous process that has gone on during the past ten years, we see that this Government can rightly claim that it has shown wisdom, courage and carefulness in protecting the Australian economy. The proof of my words is to be found in the state of the Australian economy to-day, for it is still fundamentally sound. If we look at the standing Australia enjoys overseas, and at our credit overseas, if we look at the expansion of industry in Australia, if we look at the increase in production, if we look at the rise in standards of living and the rise in real wages that have taken place in Australia, and if we look at the dividends that have been paid by companies operating in Australia both for the benefit of their shareholders and the good of the country as a whole, then we see an endorsement of my claim that the Menzies Government of Australia has successfully protected the economy of Australia.

The second ground stated by the Leader of the Opposition was that the Government had failed to develop the Australian economy. Really, when one looks back and becomes conscious of the statistical truth that during the past ten years, happily for its people, Australia has know an unparalleled period of expansion and growth, then one must be convinced that that demonstrable statistical fact makes nonsense of this second ground. I do not want to itemize everything, or to quote tedious statistics, but I do ask honorable members to look at the population growth, to look at the growth in cattle and sheep population, at the area under crop, at the growth in wool and wheat production, at the fact that the output of minerals, except gold, is higher, at the fact that the forestry output of Australia is the highest it has ever been in our history, at the fact that the number of persons employed in factories to-day is over 100,000 more than it was when we took office, at the fact that the value of trade is far higher than it has ever been in our history, at the fact that the number of overseas vessels being cleared from Australian ports is far greater, at the fact that in Australia to-day there are over 1,000,000 more motor vehicles of various kinds than there were when we took office, and at the fact that bank clearances are millions of pounds higher per annum than they were ten years ago. If all those things mean failure to develop the Australian economy, then, by all means let us have more of that sort of failure because it has brought prosperity, development and expansion that Australia has not known before - development which I believe lays the foundation for even more progress.

The third ground which the Leader of the Opposition stated was that the Government had failed to safeguard our overseas funds. This is a curious ground because part of the general complaint that he made was an attack upon us for the measures which we had taken to check the run-down in our overseas funds. He attacks and criticizes us for taking that action and then says we have failed to take any action! It is quite within his province, and he could, if he chose, try to develop some sort of convincing argument that the action which we have taken was not the right action; but, if he chooses to criticize the action we have taken to safeguard Australian funds overseas, surely he cannot at the same time make it a ground for complaint that we have not tried to safeguard them at all.

It is clear when one goes through those grounds - I have not the time to deal with them exhaustively - and asks whether the Opposition has proved its case that the verdict of the House and of the people of Australia must be that the Opposition has failed to produce convincing evidence in support of the grounds upon which it has put forward the motion of no confidence.

As we all know, the real purpose of a motion of want of confidence is to bring about a change of government. If it succeeds, it means either an immediate change of government, if an alternative government is offering, or it means an appeal to the electors on the question. So we and the electors of Australia are entitled to ask, " A change to what? Where is the alternative government?" That seems to me to be the central and most immediately relevant question in the whole of this debate. If you tip out the present government-

Mr Ward - Hear, hear!

Mr HASLUCK - I hear one voice on the opposite side crying " Hear, hear!" But if you tip out the present Government what comes in its place? The Opposition presumably offers itself to the people of Australia as an alternative government. I submit that the weakness of the Opposition's case lies in the fact that throughout this debate it has completely failed to analyse any of the causes of the change in the Australian economy. The Opposition's case simply has been that the Government is at fault and that a change of government, of itself, will bring about an improvement. But a change of government will not, of itself, change the conditions in the economy. Those who believe it will ignore the fact that the conditions with which we are dealing include such questions as world prices for our exports, world prices for our imports, the nature of the demand inside Australia, the pressure of rising standards of living, the pressure of expansion inside Australia, and the pace of development in Australia. Whether one government stays or goes, those conditions will still be there and those are the things with which any government will have to deal. None of those things will be changed simply by a change of government. That being so, reasonable Australians - and I believe most Australians are reasonable - will want to know what the new government would do to meet the conditions that are prevailing in Australia at the present time. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) proclaimed a proud and defiant socialism. He was the only one to do so. The Labour Party leaders have been silent on this subject, but we know very well, because we follow politics very closely, what Labour's policy is. We know what the policy of the Australian Labour Party, as declared at the Hobart conference, and elsewhere, is. We know it is the same brand of socialism that espoused by the honorable member East Sydney.

But let us confine ourselves to the debate on this motion before the House. Let us see what the leaders of the party opposite have actually said. I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and I also went to the trouble of reading it over two or three times in a careful and analytical way when it appeared in " Hansard ". He said much which he fancied was to the discredit of the Government, but when one searches his speech to find what he said about the economic situation of Australia, one finds only one diagnosis. He said -

The Government has one problem that transcends all others. It is the problem of the flood of imports . . . Unless we solve that problem we will solve nothing.

Later, when dealing with remedies, he said -

Something must be done and the only practical way to do it is to re-impose import restrictions.

It is a curious thing that when we had import restrictions the then leader of the Australian Labour Party wanted to remove them, and now that we have removed them the policy of the Labour Party is to put them on. It will be a terrible burden upon this Government if, when shaping its own policy, it realizes that it is also shaping the policy of the Opposition because all the Opposition will ever do will be to say, " If that is what Menzies wants we shall oppose it ". Has the Labour Party really got down to such poverty of thought that all it can think of doing is the opposite to whatever the Government does? If that is the principle it follows, then it seems to me to be a very unsound principle.

The Leader of the Opposition made another contribution to the analysis of the general economic situation. If honorable members care to read his speech again - I doubt whether very many of them will - they will find a most remarkable sentence which contains seven " ifs ". He said that if every one of these conditions were a fact - he mentioned " if " seven times - then we could slide into the treacherous sands of depression. Has the Labour Party become the party of the big " if "? Has it become the party of a long succession of " ifs "? Or has it no clearer view of the position with which it purports to deal? I suppose the only way of showing the weakness of the arguments of a man who bases his economic analysis on a succession of " ifs " is to go to the extent of four " ifs " and say, " If the people will vote for the Labour Party, and if the Labour Party had a policy, and if the Labour Party were not divided among itself, and if the Labour Party could win an election, then it would be the government ". That improbability is just as great as the one which was stated by the Leader of the Opposition and which was preceded, not by four " ifs " but by seven " ifs ".

Then we turn to the other spokesman for the party. I know that the honorable member for East Sydney carries great weight in his party and many of his colleagues stand behind him and revere his words, but in the order of things it is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), who is the official spokesman for Labour on this occasion. I listened to him and read the account of his speech in " Hansard ", and it seemed to me that he is developing a most remarkable skill as a skater. He made a very rapid speech on very slippery ground. I shall illustrate what I mean. Th? Deputy

Leader of the Opposition, speaking quite rapidly, criticized the Government for allowing interest rates to rise, but he got away too quickly to say what he would do himself about controlling interest rates. He spoke very darkly about foreign investment in our export industries, but he swept around another curve without saying what he would do to check foreign investment. Even on this central problem of the flow of imports he spoke at length, but was gone in a flash before he said what he would do about import controls. We all know that the honorable member for Werriwa has to walk on a very slippery surface, but if he is fulfil the very high hopes which he cherishes for himself - I wish he were in the chamber now to hear me - occasionally he will have to stand squarely on firm ground and state plainly to his own party and to the country at large what he believes ii> and what he proposes.

In contrast to the honorable member for East Sydney, who stated emphatically what he believed in, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition skated around every clear pronouncement and gave only some indication of what he thought were the faults of the Government without saying what he, as Deputy Leader of the party, believed should be done. But perhaps I am being a little unfair to him. He did say one thing quite plainly. He criticized the Government for the deterrent which was imposed on the motor car industry. He seemed to admit that there was a boom in that industry and that some action was needed. What action did he think would be useful? His only idea on that subject was that the Government should have told the motor car industry ten years ago how many vehicles should be sold in Australia.

Does that suggestion, carried to its logical conclusion, mean that the honorable member for Werriwa has some kind of economic system at the back of his mind by which the Government should fix production quotas for any industry that seemed likely to experience a boom? Does this mean that we should manage the national economy by carrying planning to the point where the Government itself prescribes the limits of each industry and hands out a production budget for every management?

This seems to me - and, I am sure, to the Australian people - to be a rather limited view of Australian development. It is putting a darg on progress. I wonder what Australian industry thinks of that kind of prospect under the alternative government - the prospect of waiting, at the commencement of each year, until the honorable member for Werriwa and his private secretary had issued a permit to make so many tins of this and so many boxes of that, for fear that in ten years' time some kind of boom was likely and the honorable member would then be unable to take action on it.

He justified his philosophy by arguing that rather than take action to check a boom it is better to prevent a boom from developing. I think that there is a good deal of difficulty in predicting with certainty a boom in a particular industry ten years before it takes place, yet the honorable member's contribution to the economic thought of this nation was that we could have saved ourselves trouble in 1961 if, in 1951, we had set a production quota for the motor car industry. That reveals the honorable member's total lack of understanding of the whole situation.

The position with which the Government had to deal was basically not the level of production, but an extraordinary expansion of credit. We are not using a deterrent against the motor car industry because we think that a high level of production is bad. I am sure that none of us on the Government side would want to put a limit on production. What we are concerned about solely is the strong inflationary effect of the creation of credit. This effect happened to be clearly apparent at this point in the economy. Moreover, certain extraordinary demands for imports were also due to the boom in the motor car industry. In the long term we have no intention or desire to halt the progress of this great Australian industry, and we certainly reject the idea which has been expressed on behalf of the Opposition that we should try to declare production quotas for it. We are using the economic instruments which are appropriate in a free-enterprise economy to check certain tendencies which are clearly dangerous at present, and to encourage certain other tendencies in national activity.

There is the core of the difference between the Opposition and the Government, and it is a point that many businessmen in Australia might well ponder. We have no long-term intention of restraint of industry; the Opposition clearly has that longterm intention. Our policy concerns only matters affecting the stability of the economy. In the post-war history of Australia measures relating to bank advances, sales tax and credit have been used as the instruments by which economic policy could be served. We, ourselves, have used each of those instruments, and we are using them at present. We do not have any interest in using any one of them one moment longer than it serves its purpose as an instrument. The instruments are not objectives in themselves, and we will discard them just as readily as a workman lays down any of the tools that he has found it necessary to use.

There are some journalists in this country who, commenting on the economic situation, have really acted in the same way as if they had been watching a carpenter at work, sometimes using a hammer, sometimes using a saw, and sometimes using a chisel, and they had decided that that carpenter was a stop-and-go carpenter. Surely, we have to look further than the tools that are being used, and look at the building which we are endeavouring to erect. We surely have to try to understand the overall plan that we are seeking to follow and to serve, and not confuse the plan with the tools that we may use. It is only the people who find an inconsistency in the use of a saw, a hammer or a chisel to complete one building who complain that this Government's policy is a stop-and-go policy.

In conclusion, I repeat the point that the central issue of this debate is: Who should govern Australia? Is the present Government to be trusted with guiding the national economy of this country, or is the alternative government, represented by a confused Opposition, to be preferred to it? We stand, in economic matters, on a record of eleven years of very careful and consistently successful management of the national economy. The Opposition stands on a lot of vague and empty pronouncements or on the socialist views of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward).

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