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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1223


Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. Has the right honourable gentleman noted that the rate of growth in real personal consumption has fallen consistently, over the last 15 months for which information is available, from 4.8 per cent to 1.6 per cent? Has this decline occurred in conjunction with a reduction of new orders which obliges 7 out of every 10 manufacturers to operate below capacity? Has it occurred, moreover, at a time when unemployment stands already at the highest level since 1963 and is increasing at a monthly rate of 6.6 per cent? In the light of these latest ominous indications does, he affirm the relevance of a budgetary strategy designed ' to increase still further unemployment and further reduce demand? Will he. now modify this budgetary strategy in an endeavour to minimise the additional damage which it has already begun to cause?


Mr McMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - If the gentleman who prepared the substance of the question for the honourable gentleman had gone right into the facts I think he probably would have come to a totally different conclusion. What we have to worry about in this country is the rate at which inflationary pressures exist and the action that has been taken by the Government to see that those inflationary pressures are reduced. To give an example - -


Mr Armitage - You are not worried about it?


Mr McMAHON - The honourable member will receive the answer in a few moments if he can remain calm for a second and if he is capable of understanding it. Let me mention that today the Commonwealth Statistician issued some, figures relating to the wholesale price index of building materials. In the.' course of the year those' prices have gone up by about 6 per cent. This is the kind of difficulty that this country faces. Unless we can solve the problem it will create difficulties for everyone - for the pensioner and the wage earner, and for the export industries. Indeed, it starts to create real problems for the people whom we want to see gainfully and profitably employed.


Mr Armitage - 'What about jobs?


Mr McMAHON - On the question of jobs, if the honourable members reads the document that was issued by the Department of Labour and National Service this morning he will see that the actual reduction in the. number of registered unemployed was 2,455, which constitutes roughly 1.1 per cent, or, in seasonal terms, 1.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent of the work force. This is not an abnormal figure for this time of the year. If the honourable member looks at the number of job vacancies he will see that vacancies increased by 1,461.


Mr Reynolds - Where were they? In the country?


Mr McMAHON - -If the honourable member looks at the document he will see that the number of registered unemployed in the country areas is not significantly different from that in the city areas. I thank the honourable member for the interjection. So we have to look at all these problems in a single context. Let me go a little further and say that the Government, while it knew that it had to restrain those inflationary forces caused by wage increases, at the same time was most anxious to ensure that it did not add demand inflation to wage inflation, and framed its strategy accordingly. The whole of the Budget strategy has been based upon that concept. 1 believe that honourable members should know - it is high time this was said and emphasised - that if ever there was a Budget which gave abundant opportunity for action to be taken quickly - and action which would have more or less immediate effect - it is this one. First of all we have a domestic surplus of $630m. If it was felt that demand had to be strengthened, of course action could be taken immediately. If it was thought that in monetary policy, whether it happened to be in the total supply of money or otherwise, action should be taken, it could be taken immediately. The Treasurer, the Minister for Labour and National Service and I have made it more than clear that if it were felt that action were necessary we would not hesitate to take action. We do not think that that moment has yet arrived.







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