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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 519


Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - The provisions of the Bill raise the statutory maximum contingent liability of the Export Payments Insurance Corporation from $500m to $750m. The principle embodied in the setting up of this legislation is a good one. The legislation has been subject to amendment on a number of occasions, amending Bills having been brought into the House. On the last occasion that such a Bill was debated in the House - 1 think it was in May 1971 or thereabouts - I took the opportunity, because there had been some controversy at that time about whether the principle was in accordance with the principles of the Liberal Party of which I am a member, to discuss what I thought were the principles involved. I shall not repeat them, but I allude to them because I believe them to be sound and thoroughly in accord with Australian Liberal Party principles.

I note that the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns), in his second reading speech, listed the occasions on which it has been thought necessary to raise the statutory maximum contingent liability, lt is interesting to note that it was necessary to increase the initial $50m to SI 00m in 1959, an increase of 100 per cent. In 1964 it was increased further by 50 per cent, in 1965 by 33 per cent, in 1970 by 50 per cent, in 1971 by 66 per cent and now we are increasing it by a further 50 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will take up this point: 1 question whether it is really worth while in a measure which, as far as I can see, will have universal support to have to bring back into the House so relatively frequently amendments to the contingent liability provision, and whether on this occasion it would not have been justifiable to raise it to a sum of SI, 000m in the full expectation of a great deal of necessary future expansion in the activities of this very worthy Corporation.

The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), who is not present in the chamber at the moment, made what I presume were some pretty wild allegations about the Corporation. He made the charge that the former Government used the Corporation to support wheat sales, which tactic he obviously thought was very dubious. The charges that he made were serious. I presume that we have to take his remarks seriously. I ask the Minister, in his replay or on another occasion, to examine these matters to see whether there is any truth in them. What the honourable member suggested amounted to an improper practice. I think that the matter should be answered and that the Minister should have the strength to answer it. If he has not the information in front of him, no doubt he can obtain is easily.

The Corporation was set up to encourage exports from Australia and that was recognised - I believe it is still recognised - by thinking people to be a very desirable objective. Let us be clear that the real danger which we face with our balance of payments is that of a deficit and not of a surplus. The events o! the past few months seem to me to have been an over-reaction to the position which built up in respect of our balance of payments. We had a long history of such great difficulty with deficits that when we got a surplus we seemed to go to other extremes. In December the Government made a unilateral decision to revalue the currency by 7.05 per cent, which put it in a position in which it received a blow, which I believe was completely unexpected by the Government and its advisers, when the United States decided to devalue by what is effectively 11.1 per cent against Australian currency, thus greatly affecting many of our exports. That leaves the Australian dollar overvalued in world terms. It is idle for the Treasurer (Mr Crean) to say that he made no decision when the American dollar was devalued. Of course there was a decision to leave the Australian currency unchanged when the currency of the greatest power on earth, America, was devalued. I believe that those decisions by the Government have weakened Australia's capacity to export. This Bill stands as an attempt by the former Government, supported by the amendment proposed by this Government, to encourage exports. The 2 attempts are hardly consistent, and I think this is an occasion on which that inconsistency should be drawn out.







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