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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HigginsTreasurer) - by leave - During question time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) asked me whether I could give him some information about the action of the Commonwealth Statistician in abandoning the C series retail price index in the latest statement issued by him concerning movements in consumer prices. As I told the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, shortly before the House met to-day I received from the Commonwealth Statistician a statement in connexion with this matter in which he said -

In accordance with practice established before my appointment to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics in December, 1940, and consistently followed since that date in such cases, the Statistical Bulletin relating to the Retail Price Index for March Quarter 1961 was issued by me at 11.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961, direct and simultaneously to the Treasurer (as Minister administering the Census and Statistics Act), the Honorable the Prime Minister and the Honorable the Leader of the Opposition. Almost concurrently it was issued to the Industrial Registrars of Arbitration Tribunals in the respective States and other officers in States concerned.

It was made available in Canberra and State capitals at noon on 20th April, 1961, for publication by the Press, Radio, Television, etc.

Prior to this hour and date, its contents or likely contents were known only to myself, senior officers of the Bureau of Census and Statistics and official statistical colleagues in several States and to nobody else. This too follows long standing practice of successive Statisticians and successive Ministers and Governments. In forty years of statistical experience I have never known nor heard of any case where that practice was departed from. Governments of all parties have regarded it as an essential principle of Government to ensure impartiality and integrity in statistics.

The following note was supplied at about 1 1 a.m. to the office of yourself, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for delivery at approximately 11.15 a.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961.

Mr. Carverthen sets out certain details, but I do not propose to delay the House by quoting those details now. I will let the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell; have a copy of this information. The information consists of a copy of the consumer price index bulletin for the March quarter of 1961. Mr. Carver sets out details in that bulletin and gives some background data to assist the press. That background data was included in the bulletin issued by Mr. Carver on 20th April. As ail this material is available to honorable members, I will not delay the House by reading it now. In his statement to me, Mr. Carver refers to a letter delivered at approximately 11.30 a.m., on Thursday, 20th April, to industrial registrars or industrial tribunals in four States, and in substance, with local variation, to the industrial registrars in the other two States and to the Commonwealth Industrial Registrar. That letter is in these terms - Dear Sir,


My letter of 19th January indicated that the " C " Series Retail Price Index had become an unreliable measure of retail price changes in recent quarters, and that it had been replaced by the Consumer Price Index.

For the Commission's information I enclosed therewith a statement showing indexes compiled on the old formula for December Quarter, 1960, as well as a statement showing the new Consumer Price Index Numbers.

It is not possible to compile reliable retail price indexes on the " C " Series formula for March Quarter, 1961.

As that formula has now outlived its capacity to serve as a reliable measure of retail price changes, the " C " Series Retail Price Index will not be published for March Quarter, 1961, nor ensuing periods.

The Consumer Price Index for March Quarter, 1961, and preceding periods is shown in Statistical Bulletin (S.B. 927), copy of which is enclosed herewith. This Index replaces the " C " Scries Retail Price Index as indicated in paragraph 5 of that Bulletin.

If you should need any further document from me for the purposes of your official functions. I should be glad if you would advise me immediately of your requirements.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1961, the Commonwealth Statistician, by arrange ment, called on the Honorable J. J. Maloney, the New South Wales Minister for Labour and Industry, at his office in Sydney to discuss problems arising under the Industrial Arbitration Act 1940-1961 of New South Wales. On Friday, 21st April, 1961, the Industrial Registrar of New South Wales wrote to the Commonwealth Statistician setting out the relevant terms of the act with which the registrar was required to comply and indicating the nature of the information and procedure specified by the act. The Commonwealth Statistician has informed me that a reply to that letter is being prepared as a matter of urgency.

At the request of the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, then meeting in Sydney, the Commonwealth Statistician conferred with seven representatives of the council at the Trades Hall, Sydney, at 9.30 a.m. on Friday, 21st April, 1961. With the concurrence of the Commonwealth Statistician following that interview, the president of the A.C.T.U. issued the following statement to the press at about 12 noon: -

The A.C.T.U. has requested the Commonwealth Statistician to supply details of available price changes of components of the " C " Series Index.

This material is required by the A.C.T.U. for Industrial Arbitration or other relevant purposes.

Mr. Carverindicated he had requested Industrial Registrars on Thursday, 20th, to contact him on any problems that may arise concerning the application of Price Index Numbers to Wage adjustments, and also was now arranging to supply the A.C.T.U. with available information required for Industrial Arbitration purposes.

Mr. Carver'sstatement continues

On the same day (21st April, 1961) the Secretary of the A.C.T.U. sent to the Commonwealth Statistician two letters: -

(1)   requesting information for use in the current Basic Wage Case, now proceeding in Melbourne, including extensive tabular data for March Quarter, 1961, in the form previously supplied for the " C " Series Index for December Quarter, 1960, and

(2)   requesting that special arrangements be made to supply similar data for future quarters.

Arrangements are being made to comply to-day (26th April, 1961) with request (1) above in appropriate form and through appropriate channels.

It is understood that the matter will be mentioned to-day in proceedings before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Requisite information has been supplied or is being supplied to appropriate authorities in industrial proceedings in Western Australia and Queensland.

Consideration is being given to the request (2) above, it being established practice that the Commonwealth Statistician will supply index numbers or other data required for arbitration proceedings.

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