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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 704


Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I acknowledge the comments made by the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) concerning my work in connection with isolated children. I am prepared to concede, as he asked me, that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) provided funds for this purpose. I should also like to say that the headquarters of the federal body of the isolated children's scheme is situated in the electorate of Darling. The honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick) and I have been together on deputations on this matter on a few occasions. We both agreed to keep above party politics. I should also like to pay a tribute to the honourable member for Darling for his co-operation. We introduced a deputation to the then Minister for Education, Mr Malcolm Fraser, and to the shadow Minister for Education, Mr Beazley. They both agreed to assist isolated children. I am sure that had the former Government been re-elected it would have honoured its promise. I pay tribute to Mr Beazley for keeping his promise in this particular case.

The only other point I wish to make with regard to statements made previously in this debate relate to the contribution made by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly). The Minister said:

.   . not one member of the Country Party has ever won more than SO per cent of the primary votes before being elected to this Parliament. Of course they get more than SO per cent after the distribution of preferences, but not one Country Party member has ever gained a majority on the first count.

Those are the words he used, despite what he might have said tonight. If he tries to change the meaning of that statement I will challenge his right to do so and the people who are listening can judge from that who is right or who is wrong. That statement appears twice in Hansard and I have every confidence in Hansard. Not only is it in Hansard but it was reported in the same terms by the Press. The matter is up to the Minister. If he tries to change the meaning of his statement he will find that he will be challenged.


Mr Maisey - The Hansard tapes will have it.


Mr CORBETT - As the honourable member suggests, the Hansard will have recorded it too. I believe that the Minister has not got out of it as nicely as he thought he was going to.

I turn now to the Budget Speech. I believe that the greatest domestic disaster of the day, or at least the greatest next to this Labor Government, is the evil of inflation. It affects everybody to some extent but the hardest hit are the pensioners and other people on low incomes - the very people whom this Government has been claiming for 23 years that it would do so much for when it assumed office. They are now bitterly disillusioned. The Government gave a rise in pensions of $1.50 or about 7 per cent but with inflation rising at an estimated rate of 13 per cent per annum - it may be more according to some speakers - the pensioners are worse off than ever. By the time the next $1.50 is provided inflation will have taken a further toll of the purchasing power of the pension. So, while this Government is in office pensioners can expect their standard of living to deteriorate. By contrast, wealthy people who have large* assets in city real estate, for example, will not feel the pressures of uncontrolled inflation nearly so much because, as inflation increases, these assets will rise in value, although, as the share market demonstrates, they will not appreciate as much as those people might have hoped. The working people, and I mean those on wages and moderate salaries, business people in country towns, people on fixed incomes, primary producers who have to sell on world markets irrespective of the cost of production, as well as pensioners, are among those who will suffer most as a result of the inflation engendered by this highly inflationary Budget.

There is no reward for thrift in this Budget. Those who saved during their lifetime to enable them to live on income from those savings find the value of their savings so eroded by inflation that their effort has not been worth while. Bad as the situation is now it will grow worse under the pressures engendered by this highly inflationary Budget. For the first time in the history of this country we have a tax on pensions. One can accept that age pensions paid to people on high incomes will be taxable, but, to reduce the tax rebate of $156 by 25c in the $1 for each $1 of taxable income when the taxable income reaches $2,236 or $43 a week shows very scant consideration for pensioners and others on the lower scale of income. I would have expected the tax rebate to be allowed in full to a much higher level of taxable income than the figure of $43 a week. I believe that pensioners should be given greater encouragement to supplement their pension income and so do something to offset the erosion of the purchasing power of their pensions by the frightening rapid increase in the rate of inflation now taking place.

Listening to the almost deafening blare of trumpets by honourable members opposite when in Opposition, one would have expected that this Government would have shown a greater compassion to those Australians in greatest need. I refer to those people in receipt of social security and welfare benefits. What is the actual position? Under the previous Government - and I take the figures from Hansard of 21 August 1973 - the amount actually spent on social security and welfare benefits rose by $503.5m over the amount provided in the previous year whereas the estimated increase this year over the amount provided last year is only $339.5m - a very serious drop of some $64m or 33 per cent less than the increase provided last year over the preceding year. Those figures illustrate the action taken by the previous Government.

There is further concrete evidence that the previous Government had a much greater concern for those in greatest need than has this Government. That concern was even greater than those figures imply because the amount allocated by the previous Government was from a total budgetary expenditure of almost $2,000m less than the estimated expenditure in this Budget. With an estimated expenditure of about $12,168m it is amazing to find that school children will be denied their free milk ration. I cannot understand why this should have been done. In the interests of the health of school children, if the supply of milk was to be discontinued it would have been appropriate if fruit juice had been supplied and the cost offset by the savings made as a result of the lifting of tax concessions on soft drinks containing fruit juice. This proposal would have had the added advantage of making free drinks available to- all schools and it would have been of real assistance to the hard pressed fruit industry. But this Government did not bother to do that. It took away the tax concessions but gave nothing in return.

The Budget has shown this Government to be narrow minded, sectionally oriented and financially irresponsible. It has endeavoured to make savings at the expense of the low income earner. It has 'been very severe on businessmen in country towns Take country newspaper proprietors and newsagents for example. At the present time a newspaper weighing approximately 3 oz would cost 1.75c in postage. Under this Government's proposal the postage cost of that article in 1976 will be no less than 11c. This crushing burden of increased postage rates will affect newspapers in country areas and this could place many of them in financial jeopardy while the benefit to the Government will be comparitively small. Where the cost is passed on it will fall heavily on the shoulders of primary producers who are just recovering from a period of drought and low prices.

Again dealing with country areas, the average increase in country telephone rentals is another example of the complete lack of understanding of or sympathy with the problems of primary producers and the elimination of taxation benefits comes into the same category. Is the Government completely unaware of the serious financial problems that primary producers have faced over recent years? Does it not know the need for rural reconstruction which was provided for by the previous Government, and which provision has been continued in a small way in this Budget? The present policy of this Government will do much to prevent primary producers from recovering to the extent that present prices and seasonal conditions would have ensured under the previous Government. But under this Government they will not be able to make that recovery. The narrowminded attitude of this Government contrasts sharply with the broad national outlook of the Country Party. To those who question the correctness of that statement let me refer to a sub-leader in the 'Courier-Mail' of 28 August 1973. I ask the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), who is seeking to interject, to listen to this. The article is headed Tree Travel?'. I will only have sufficient time in this debate to read the first 3 paragraphs of this sub-leader. It reads:

The proposal for free public transport in cities brought up again at the week-end by the Mines Minister (Mr Camm) has much to be said for it.

The more that people are encouraged to use public transport, the less severe will be traffic congestion.

Obviously, free public transport means a loss of revenue to Governments and their authorities, but savings could be made in the expensive business of constructing new road systems.

Mr Cammis the Country Party Minister for Mines and Main 'Roads in the Queensland Country Party-Liberal Government. This thinking on the part of a Country Party Minister, on a measure which would be of very great advantage to the people on the lower range of incomes in the city of Brisbane, highlights the same reasoning behind Country Party thinking in relation to services in rural areas. It should not be all important that every separate undertaking by the Government should be self-contained profitably.

I would just like to refer to the position in relation to wheat. The present domestic price of wheat is $1.85 a bushel. I will take an export return f.o.b. of $3 a bushel - and the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) only yesterday or the day before said that world prices for wheat had gone up to something like $3.80 - for the purpose of making a comparison.


Mr King - That is very conservative.


Mr CORBETT - It is very conservative. The differential is obviously $1.15 a bushel. On the basis of home consumption amounting to 70 million bushels the saving to the consumer amounts to over $'80m. If the figure of $3 a bushel is conservative it may be that the saving to the consumer is closer to $100m. We can see what is being done on the one hand. Surely this Government does not intend to deprive those deserving people in rural areas of a telephone just because it is not economic to the Postmaster-General's Department. That is not the attitude that we took when we were in government over the years. The returns come in many different ways.

The increase in petrol prices will fall more heavily on the shoulders of people in towns where no public transport is available than where alternative transport can be obtained. Every resident of a country town has to use petrol every time he or she moves outside his or her home and of course primary producers have to use petrol every time they move around their properties or in travelling to the towns which service them. I need hardly stress the inflationary effect of the rise in petrol prices and diesel fuel used for automotive purposes. One has only to travel on any main arterial road to realise the large tonnage of goods being transported by road and increased transport charges must have an inflationary effect on prices.

This Government uses double standards. On the one hand it demands that as near as practicable every member in this House should represent the same number of electors irrespective of distance, isolation or sparsity of population, but when it comes to telephone rentals, for example, it does not accept the principle that for a similar rental each subscriber should have local call access to an equal number of subscribers irrespective of distance, isolation or sparsity of population. That is the sort of comparison that illustrates the absurdity of this Government's action in regard to electoral numbers. The Country Party does not argue that telephone services should be provided completely but there is certainly a very sound and reasonable basis for the concessions that were allowed by the previous Government to people in rural areas by way of lower phone rentals and indeed in taxation reductions.

Let us look at the difference in the cost of installing a telephone in rural areas under this Government and the cost under the Liberal Country Party Government. The provision of a line for15 miles would have cost the subscriber nothing under the previous Government but under this Government the cost to the subscriber, if the line were installed by the PostmasterGeneral's Department, would be no less than $5,100 and that charge would increase at the rate of $510 for every mile beyond the 15mile radius, thereby placing essential telephone services beyond the financial circumstances of many rural residents. Is that the sort of thing that this Government wants? One of the most quoted passages of the scripture is where St Paul spoke of the three great virtues of faith, hope and charity and said that the greatest of these is charity. There was little charity in this Budget for residents living outside the metropolitan area and one might say that the three great scourges for people in these areas in recent years have been droughts, unprofitable prices and Labor governments and the greatest of these is the Labor governments, particularly this Labor Government.

With apologies to Churchill let us beware of a society where no one counts unless he lives in a metropolitan area or in one of the few places chosen to become growth centres, and let us beware of a government such as we have now, so viciously biased in its policy and so ruthlessly determined to deprive people in rural areas and country towns of the few concessions they now enjoy. If it is the desire of this Government to concentrate even more people than ever in our capital cities, then it has in this Budget, a blueprint to achieve this objective, but what a tragedy this would be from a national point of view. Rarely in the history of national economic planning has so much been taken from one section of the community at one time.

There are so many faults in this Budget that I will not have sufficient time in this debatetorefertoallthethingsIwouldlike to have raised. I cannot refer to all of the injustices of Black Tuesday but I would like to read a letter which was written by a child. It reads:

Thank you, Mr Crean and Party, the country people get your message loud and clear we must be punished for daring to vote against you.

You cannot quite starve us into submission, but crikey, you will have a good try.

This is what we hear: 'You so-and-sos have to get most of your goods by post, so we'll put up the price of parcels. You have to get your newspapers and the magazines for the missus by post, so let's raise the postage there. You have to have the telephone for doctor as well as for business; we'll cut off the rental concession.

Petrol is going to cost you so much more that you won't be able to spend any on social calls or neighbourly tennis matches' or children's sports. (But we must remember to make it easier for those good fellows in the cities to get to the races. That idea of free transport in the cities is a good one. You chaps out there can be slugged for a bit more tax to pay for that.)

We won't let you send your children to the school of your choice, well, not unless you pay a lot extra for it. We won't have you giving your kids anything better than we give ours.

If you grow fruit, we'll still get you. We'll cut off the tax exemption on fruit drinks. The doctors say it is healthful but the kids can drink the fizzy stuff instead.'

Don't think that you can save tax by buying machinery for use on the property. There'll be no longer any more concessions for that sort of expenditure. We'll take one cent a pound on all meat you export, too. We are in the saddle; don't you forget it.'

We have a few more little snags for you. It is a pity we won't have control of the State Railways. We could really do a complete job then. Make the most of the present; by this time next year you will be looking back on this year as a time of comparative easy conditions. Look out'!

Yes Mr Crean, we understand, but every dog has his day. Yours will come

I think that letter was well worded and worth reading. Never has a government come into office under more favourable conditions than did this Government. The economy was sound, business was thriving, world markets for most of our products were buoyant, Australia's standing internationally was high and seasonal conditions, after a long period of drought in many areas were in the main good. This Government had a golden opportunity to put up a good performance but never has such an opportunity been so incompetently handled and so ignominiously spoiled. It is scarcely credible that a government could damage such a sound economy so drastically in such a short time. It is scarcely credible that our international reputation could fall so far in so short a time. It is scarcely credible that under these conditions a government could lose the confidence of the people so dramatically in the course of a few short months. As clear evidence that this has happened I quote from an assessment of an

Australian Nationwide Opinion poll which appeared in the 'Australian' of 25 August. The assessment stated:

The main reasons for the Liberal Party's sharp gain in support appear to be the feeling that voters would be personally worse off and the fear of continuing price rises.

Only 7 per cent thought they would be better off, compared with 42 per cent who said they would be worse off, 43 per cent no change and 8 per cent unsure.

Only 16 per cent expected the economy to do better following the Budget while 58 per cent thought things would get worse or remain the same.

Most voters (62 per cent) did not believe the Budget would 'be effective in curbing inflation and 22 per cent were unsure.

Throughout the poll, the negative response from women was stronger than from men, reflecting the influence of the rising cost of living and its sharper impact on the housewife.

I oppose the Budget and support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.







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