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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2199

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The learned classical scholar who has just sat down has warned the

Senate to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. I suppose this phrase occurred to him because of the revulsion we all know he would feel at the recent acts of the Greek colonels and generals in bearing the gifts of suppression to their people. However, we on this side have learned to beware of conservatives who, under the guise of anti-centralism, lament any disturbance of the status quo. That, of course, is the essence of this tired old cliche of a motion that we have heard today. I do not know whether it is any coincidence that this tired old cliche of a motion should surface just at the time that we have in our midst probably one of the world's leading exponents of the philosophy behind it. I refer, of course, to that second rate cowboy actor and third rate regional politician, Ronald Reagan, who, addressing the Institute of Directors yesterday, delivered himself of this dictum:

Government is not as efficient as business and government should be a referee and not a player in this game.

One might as well say that what was good for the age of Adam Smith is good for the age of multinational corporations, nuclear weapons and a world wide crisis of the system itself, based on the profligate misuse of resources. This is the philosophy behind this motion. It is a nostalgic regret that life is no longer simple and that government is therefore complex. Senator Durack lamented the fact that the Labor Government had seen fit to introduce 10 new departments of State. What a horror. This of course if merely an acknowledgement of the fact that there are at least 10 new problems to which the Liberal-Country Party coalition failed to advert during its long period of mis-government.

Most of the argument- if one could call it such- that was used in defence of this general proposition that masquerades as an urgency motion consisted of tired, waffling rhetoric, but once or twice Senator Durack did attempt to get down to chapter and verse. Unfortunately, this debate seems to have deteriorated into a misunderstanding and a Bowdlerisation of the Government's arts policy. I can understand that the Opposition resents the fact that we have an arts policy. One can recall that under the previous Government arts got a casual mention in a Ministry of bits and pieces under the egregious Mr Howson. Let us have a look at what Senator Durack said. He gave the Australian Council for the Arts as an illustration of his proposition that the power being exercised by this Government was being exercised in an arbitrary manner. The point that he was attempting to make in quoting the Council for the Arts- this was evidently not adopted by Senator McManus- was that we were operating in many fields, and particularly in this one, without legislative authority. That was the point that Senator Durack sought to make out of his use of the example of the Council for the Arts.

I do not know what we have to do to satisfy this Opposition. If we introduce legislation allegedly without any preparation, without any reports and without any time for debate, we are reproached. There was a recent wail from the Democratic Labor Party that we were introducing legislation at such a rate that its members did not have an opportunity to do it justice. In the case of the Council for the Arts, I remind the Senate that several weeks ago the Government introduced in the Parliament an interim report of the Australian Council for the Arts setting out in detail what we proposed. We proposed to set up a council- a statutory body- to administer the arts. This report was put down precisely in order to give the Parliament an opportunity of studying what we proposed. But Senator Durack takes this as an example of the exercise of arbitrary power. I ask again: What do we have to do to satisfy this Opposition? What is perfectly obvious is that the Opposition's lament is not that we are exercising power in an arbitrary, capricious or centralist way. Its lament is, as Senator Wheeldon pointed out, merely that we are in government. If we are to look for any chapter and verse explanation of the purpose of this motion before us today, it really comes down to that.

Senator Durackdid concede that over the last 30 years or so there had been a gradual erosion of absolute State power starting with the introduction of uniform taxation. I suggest to Senator Durack and to all senators on the Opposition benches that the real logic of the argument if it can be dignified as such- that they put before the Senate today involves a return to the days before uniform taxation. This is as far as their nostalgia takes them. If they really wish to assist the States by exercising the power which will act as a brake on the wicked centralist socialist government, they will have to go the whole hog and suggest what I make bold to claim they would not dare to suggest, that is, give the taxation power back to the States. Otherwise they have to face the inexorable march of political progress in this country which leads to greater" centralism in governments, no matter which Party is in office. The process of centralising government in this country was proceeding apace under the Liberal-Country Party coalition. To suggest that it received a vast acceleration when we came to office is to misread history.

What honourable senators opposite are complaining about is that the Australian people since 2 December have had an activist government which wishes to make available to the Australian people all the fruits of the opportunities which nature has given them- a government which wishes to make them available to the people of this country untrammelled by sellouts to overseas companies which was par for the course during the previous Government's day. What they are objecting to is that there is now a government which wants to do something; not merely a government which wants to preside over what is happening, which is what we had for 23 years.

If, in order to carry out our activist program, we have to appoint more commissions, such as the 77 new commissions which Senator Durack referred to with such horror, it merely highlights the fact that when we came to office we were confronted with the task of clearing out the Augean stables which had been bequeathed to us after 23 years of mis-government and nongovernment. Of course, this is a mess which cannot be swept away without some manpower. We have availed ourselves of the skills and expertise in the community to sweep away a mess which was left to us by previous governments. We make no apology for the fact that we are doing this and suggest that the real gravamen of this motion today is not a complaint about arbitrary government or centralist government; it is merely a wail from the Opposition because it is not in government and we are.

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