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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2962

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.34) —I rise to support the censure motion moved by my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard). It is a long time since this Parliament has seen such a dereliction of duty and such a blatant misleading of the House as we have witnessed today. Despite the fact that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) would not allow the minutes to be tabled in the Parliament today-neither would he table them, nor would he accept the request by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to table them-they are now being circulated, and properly so because they will nail him for what he is, a man who has misled not only this Parliament but also the Australian people.

When I listened to the honourable member at Question Time today I thought he was just stumbling, but as his answer struggled on it was obvious that he was deliberately misleading this Parliament. No wonder, I suppose, because the first lie was told last week. The message of the projections of the Australian economy was leaked last Friday. It was a chilling message. It was time that the Government came clean on the matter. It was time it had the guts and the courage to admit that any economic strategy which produces ever rising unemployment must be a wrong strategy. But this Government did not have the guts to face up to its responsibilities and it does not have the guts to admit that the Economic Planning Advisory Council did not in fact reject the results of the projections. The Government prefers to pursue its blatant deception of the Australian people which started with its election promises. I said the deception started last Friday. When one looks at the minutes and examines the Treasurer's Press release , which the innocent would have accepted as being a faithful recording of the realities and the truth, one finds that in fact he said in his Press release last Friday:

At its meeting EPAC members criticised technical weaknesses in the paper and generally rejected it as inconsistent with likely future trends in the economy.

Mr Howard —That is false.

Mr PEACOCK —It is absolutely false. EPAC members rejected it? Let us look at the truth. I quote from the minutes of that EPAC meeting which supposedly, in the Treasurer's terms, rejected the projections:

Council considered that the implications of the projections were disturbing.

Is that rejection? The minutes continued:

It was suggested that if there were little prospect of achieving substantial reductions in unemployment over the next few years, radical new approaches were warranted.

It was the Government's policy that it had laid down beforehand that was being rejected, not the projections that were put before EPAC. The Treasurer lied on Friday and he has lied today, and the minutes show that.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) -Order! The honourable gentleman will withdraw that remark.

Mr Keating —Yes, I take exception to that, Mr Speaker. It is the first time the honourable gentleman has got out from under the sun lamp--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition is asked to withdraw that remark.

Mr PEACOCK —I withdraw the word 'lied' and say that he misled the people and he misled the Parliament today. Let us go on with the minutes to show the situation and nail the misleading for what it is. After saying that radical new approaches were needed-far be it from a rejection-the minutes go on to say:

Although the results of the PM & C Projections were considered disappointing,--

that is putting it mildly-

emphasis was given to the fact that certain policy approaches would produce better employment results than others. It was noted that some work was currently being done on the development of socially constructive employment opportunities outside the conventional labour force, and that the Government would be in a position to present a paper on this subject for discussion at the next Council meeting.

Where is the rejection? Further work is being done. What are the projections from which the Government is running scared? According to the re-work projections, at best real non-farm product is likely to be 2 1/2 per cent lower than projected before, total employment is likely to be 1 1/4 per cent lower than projected before and no substantial improvement in profitability is projected. The chilling summary of it all is that unemployment rises. No wonder the Government wanted to deceive and to cloak these projections with the misleading phrases emanating from last Friday and carried through to the Parliament today. No person can come into the Parliament and stand here as responsible for a department, and a department as important as the Treasury, and mislead this Parliament as to what is transpiring by way of projections that are put forward to bodies on which he participates. Indeed his own officials must liaise from time to time. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has rightly pointed out that if one were to ask for Treasury projections they would probably be infinitely worse than the ones that are being covered up today. I suppose we can say 'No wonder the Treasurer tried to deceive the House', but that is working on the assumption of the way in which he has sought deception from last Friday.

It is pointless for the Government to say, as it has today and on other occasions, that these figures are mere projections and not forecasts, that there has been an improvement in some indicators since the projections were made and that the Opposition is just being negative. That is absolutely avoiding the issue. The Government is stumbling blindly on. It is treating people like statistics, like digits in a computer, not human beings. It is treating expert projections-55 pages of expert analysis-like political fodder. Now we learn that it is desperately trying to hide the fact that EPAC felt sufficiently disturbed to talk about the need for radical new approaches. Why did the Government not come clean when it got these projections? The Treasurer says that he got them on 7 October. That was the date of the EPAC meeting. Did no member of EPAC get these projections before the meeting? Did the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) not see them in September? Did the Treasurer not receive them in September? If, as I suspect, this man has misled today, he will mislead in regard to the date on which he received the documents.

If the projections were so bad as to occasion more work, by EPAC not rejecting them, why did the Government not seek leave to appear before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and point out to the Commission that the assumptions that had been put to it were now found to be wrong? These projections have not been rejected. They have occasioned further work and they have gravely disturbed members of EPAC. Why did the Government not come clean not only before the Parliament but also before the Commission? The reason is that it has done its deal not with the unemployed but with the unions. It is locking out the unemployed.

The harsh reality is that all the indices that are showing any improvement are doing so solely because of the policies of the previous Government. Who put the wages pause in place? It was not this Government. We put the wages pause in place with the assistance of every other government in Australia. The only group in Australia that opposed the wages pause is that consisting of the former incumbents of this side of the House, the present Government. State Labor governments went along with us. The Government will not now move from its position. Had it sought to extend that pause we would see the benefit next year. The present Government told us when we announced that we would seek a wages pause that no-one would go along with us. We got the support of the trade union movement and the State Labor Premiers. The present Government would not have the guts to even try it. A 4.3 per cent increase in wages has now been granted following a submission by the Government that is now revealed to be wrong by the Government's own experts and the Government has committed us to wage indexation next year. We were told in the Treasurer's own Budget papers that there will be further labour shedding next year. The basic reason given was that profits would be squeezed, that Australia was uncompetitive. The Government, whilst Australia is still uncompetitive, is locking us into full wage indexation at a rate that is more than double that of our competitors, further exacerbating our present uncompetitive situation. No wonder the Government's experts are advising it that more and more people will join the dole queue. The Government is going to adopt the stance that the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions adopts. Quite obviously it will say: 'Our responsibility is now for the 89 per cent or the 88.8 per cent who still remain in work; we will forget the 11.2 per cent who are unemployed'. That is the chilling reality of the programs that the Government is following. It is the chilling reality of the figures that are put down by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The reality is that the Government is desperately trying to hide behind the fact that unemployment is continuing to rise and will reach over 11 per cent in 1985-86. Let us change the argument from statistics to people. This Government- all of the honourable members opposite who claim to have a social conscience-is following a strategy which will damn at least one in four of our young people to the dole queue, to the trauma of social rejection with the inevitable consequences for this country. The projections for the Australian economy, leaked last Friday, about which the Treasurer has made consistently misleading remarks, indicate graphically that the Government's economic strategy is a strategy of higher unemployment, higher inflation, higher deficits and hence high real interest rates. The projections are a chilling indictment of the Government. They indicate clearly the price the unemployed are required to pay for the Government's deal with the unions. An increasing number of statistics have made clear that recovery is beginning. Why? Because the rains came and the wages pause was in place. The Government ignores these factors and it ignores the pushing of more and more people onto the dole queue.

No wonder the Opposition was moved to propose this motion immediately after Question Time, after the Treasurer had further misled and exacerbated the misleading statements last Friday. Unemployment is destined to continue growing. Instead of engaging in some deceitful orgy of self-congratulation, instead of turning every welcome sign of employment into another source of unwarranted self -confidence, the Government should be taking the expert projection seriously, as are members of EPAC, and examining what changes are needed in its strategy to get unemployment down, not in four years but now. The strategy urged by the Government's advisers is to 'ensure that home grown disabilities in the Australian economy do not prevent the nation from taking best advantage of such world economic growth as might occur'.

The essential elements of an economic strategy to deal with unemployment are simple. They rest mainly on a wages policy aimed at restoring our competitiveness and at reducing inflation to a level at or below that likely to be experienced by our major trading partners. They must be aimed at a reduction in the public sector deficit to a level which allows for reductions in real interest rates and removes constraints on private sector recovery. Most importantly, they rest on a return to private sector profitability to a level which encourages new investment, new economic activity and new employment opportunities. The Treasurer should not come before the House and say that his strategy is working. His own advisers have indicated that it is not working. He mentioned earlier in his speech that he could not table the minutes of EPAC. He quoted from them to justify that. He quoted the words: 'In the meantime it was important that the preliminary work reported in the paper remained confidential to Council members'. That quotation was from the paper, the 55 pages of advice that were tendered to the Government, not the minutes. The minutes reflected the request for confidentiality regarding the document itself. Even in regard to the minutes the Treasurer misled this Parliament. Therefore, this motion should receive support. The Treasurer should be censured for misleading the Parliament, for indicating that expert advisers had put forward a scenario that deeply troubled members of EPAC. It was not rejected but, in fact, has been carried forward.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.