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Tuesday, 27 March 1973
Page: 681


Mr HURFORD (ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Acting Treasurer. Has the concentration of economic power, in terms of ownership and share of domestic markets, increased in Australia in recent years? If so, has there been a tendency for the concentration of economic power in either of these senses to increase more rapidly in the last 5 years than in the previous 5 years? ls there any indication that the rate of increase, if any, of the concentration of economic power might increase in the near future?


Mr HAYDEN - There is no official information upon which one can base a statement on the point which the honourable member has raised. My own impression is that there has been an increasing tendency for concentration of economic power in Australia. The only official reports which I am aware of have been compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician and referred to the mining industry, the manufacturing industry and some other sectors of the economy. There have been quite a number of non-official but nonetheless authoritative and reliable reports on the degree to which concentration exists in the Australian economy. Fairly recently Mr Sykes wrote a series of articles in the 'Australian Financial Review' on this subject. Professor Wheelwright has written a number of works in this area too, and of course so too have other academics. Hylda Rolfe several years ago in a work which is somewhat dated now but still with some relevance, entitled 'The Controllers', gave an interesting analysis of a number of company board directors indicating the cross relationship of board directors between financial, commercial and manufacturing interests. While not drawing any conclusions about how this cross relationship was used nonetheless the inference is clearly there that even if it is not used it is capable of being used to regulate the operation of the economy.

Personally I am not gravely alarmed about the existence of concentration of economic power if we are .talking about, for instance, monopolies or oligopolies in the economy because in Australia I believe there is a sound case for large scale production to achieve economies of scale. What is essential in those sorts of situations of course is to guarantee that there is sufficient competition within the economy to make sure that the monopolies or oligopolies are not exploiting and abusing their position of economic dominance. Personally - and I stress a personal point of view here - I would use the competition which imports could contribute to a much greater extent than has so far been used. The Government of course is concerned about the need for greater efficiency and responsible practices by business generally and this has been the motivation for our proposing a prices justification tribunal, a protection commission, machinery for consumer protection and a tightening of restrictive trade practices legislation.

In the tertiary sector, of course, it is more difficult to achieve competition between the various elements in that sector and Miss Lampe, 1 have noted in the 'Australian Financial Review', many times has pointed out the seeming absence of real competition, for instance, between insurance companies, although I am sure they are not the only institutions in the economy and in the tertiary sector which are able because of the complexities, in that case, of their operations to avoid real competition. What I am saying and what the honourable member is referring to is a matter that does deserve considerable attention. It is a matter which presents considerable problems because of definition of what is economic concentration for the purposes of a rigorous meaningful statistical exercise. I will refer this matter to the Treasurer on his return from the United States, because it also involves consideration of whether we have sufficient resources available at this stage to carry out the sort of inquiry which is necessary and, 1 believe, desirable to fulfil the sorts of needs that the honourable member has in mind.







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