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Prices and incomes referendum

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EMBARGO: 7.30 P.M.

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We have all experienced the worrying problem of rising prices over the last three years. When the Labor Government came into office almost exactly a year ago today, inflation was already a serious matter. We recognised that there were two main aspects to this problem - the price of goods coming into Australia from overseas and the price of goods and services provided within Australia. x

We have in the last year been able to tackle the first problem - the price of imports - by revaluing the dollar twice and by cutting tariffs. Some of the benefits of these actions are still to be felt, but there can be no doubt that they have helped control inflation. Indeed there is now strong opinion

among economists that, because of the conditions we inherited, inflation would have grown by 20 per cent this year if we had not taken these steps.

The second aspect of the problem - the price of goods and services provided within Australia - has presented greater difficulties. There were some easy economic weapons available to us but we were determined not to use them. We could have

created unemployment, for example. Our opponents were prepared to do this when they were in office; we were not. We could

also have increased taxation. This way we would have cut down the amount of money which all of us had to spend. Again, in keeping with our election promise, we refused to do this.

Nevertheless, we have not been idle. One major step we have taken has been to establish the Prices Justification Tribunal to scrutinise increases in the price of commodities produced by major companies. The tribunal has had undeniable

success in moderating and even preventing rises in the cost of a number of goods. It deterred, for example, the breweries from increasing the price of beer in recent months.

It has, however, had to depend on moral persuasion. And throughout the year it has become increasingly apparent that the Australian Parliament - and the Prices Justification Tribunal which it created - do not have all possible commonsense powers

to deal with inflation. That is why we ask you next Saturday to vote YES to the proposition that the Australian Parliament be given the power to control prices. To vote YES is to affirm that some one should have the capacity to scrutinise and, if necessary,

effectively tackle rising costs that all of us face, in supermarkets, shops and elsewhere.

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The Australian Parliament is also seeking the power to make laws about incomes. We believe that this will enable us to engage in a fair fight against inflation. The incomes power is not simply a negative power. We will be able to introduce a program for the national achievement of equal pay for all women

in the workforce - something which we simply cannot do under the Constitution at present. It would also permit the Australian Parliament to make allowances for inflation, if necessary, by making periodic adjustments to wages and salaries.

In the last week sixteen professors of economics at Australian universities from all States have circulated a letter advocating a YES vote on both prices and incomes. I want to quote to you from that letter.

"The inflation we are presently experiencing may . well recur," they said, "and different combinations of policies, including prices and incomes policies, may be appropriate from time to time. Such combinations could only be made possible by .

a Constitutional amendment. If the referendurns on 8 December - on Saturday - are not carried this opportunity will be lost for many years."