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Electorate talk

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EMBARGO: APPROX: 7.00 p.m.


The rate of inflation in Australia came under scrutiny in the Federal Parliament during last week, following release of the December quarter Consumer Price Index,. .

One clear and irrefutable fact emerged - the underlying rate of inflation in Australia has shown a sustained and measurable decline. The facts show that we have been getting on top of inflation. They show that our policies of government spending restraint and the transfer of resources to private industry are the right policies.

For the 12 months of 1976 the Consumer Price Index - excluding Medibank - was 10.8 percent. This was the lowest increase for four years ... and 50 percent lower than the 1975 figure.

The statisticians figure for the December quarter increase in the C.P.I. was 6 percent. However, as Australians know this figure included 3.2 percent for the cost of the Medibank levy and other health costs.

For the quarter there was an underlying increase in the price of a nominated range of goods and services by 2.8 percent.

Although inflation in Australia is significantly less than it was 12 months ago, it is still far too high. It is for this reason that the decisions coming from this week's national wage case will be critical in our fight against inflation. The Government will be presenting a strong and detailed argument for the maximum possible restraint in wage increases.

The main cause of inflation in Australia over recent years, for which we are still paying, was excessive wage and salary demands. Australians know that wages have gone up dramatically in the past few years. We also now know that the extra money that fills pay

packets has not enabled people to buy more goods and services.

Normally, wage increases can be responsibly financed by increases in productivity. A company increases its output, improves profit, and is able to pay increased wages. Until recently, however, there has been very little growth. In its last year of office, Labor

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presided over the physical decline of most of the productive outout of the economy. In these circumstances wage increases . had the effect of increasing inflation. This in turn lead to cutbacks in business activities - at the expense of jobs.

I have said before - as have people* like Mr Crean and Mr Whitlam - that one man's pay increase in another man's job. That is still the rule.

Today many Australian companies are returning to profit. They are starting to compete more aggressively in the marketplace. They are planning ahead with renewed confidence. They have faith in this nation's capacity to recovery from economic depression. But this new spirit, and new optimism which is being translated into positive investment decisions, will be destroyed if these companies

are forced to feed large parts of their profit back into paying, excessive wage increases.

These companies now have the opportunity to put profits back where they belong - and that is, back in the business. They can put profit into new plant, new processes, and expansion programmes - which in turn will lead to greater production and more jobs.

It is only in these circumstances that the great producers and employers of labour will be able to grant wage increases without destroying their business.

Until then, the employer - the man who takes risk with his capital - must be given a fair go at recovering his profit and using it to put back into his business. It is for this reason that the need for wage restraint at this time is utterly critical. It will remain crucial for quite some period.

The Treasurer and Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations have already told Parliament that the Federal Government will be pressing'the need for the maximum possible restraint in awarding any wage increases before the Commission.

In this regard, it was interesting to note Mr Hawke's comment that the ACTU would be pressing for a full 6 percent flow on of the C.P.I. into wages. His call for the full flow on is utterly irresponsible. It is not a call that would be supported by the unionists he purports to represent.

Mr Hawke's pleas for the full flow on amount to nothing less than a call for higher inflation, higher and continually increasing unemployment and a shattering of business confidence. ’ His public statements will not distract the Government from acting

in the national interest.

Australia today is growing stronger. We have made a good start in our economic recovery. It is imperative that the gains we have made are not frittered away or destroyed.