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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3449

Mr PUNCH(11.21) —With all the logic present in an empty jam jar, the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) has just given a marvellous speech on one Bill or another, none of which is before this House. Lest I should dignify anything he said, I do not want to dwell on his speech save to mention two points. He mentioned price surveillance or price control, as he repeatedly put it, of State authorities. If the honourable member for Higgins knew anything about the Constitution of this country, which this Parliament serves, not only would he know that was impossible but also, if he had read the second reading speech of the Treasurer (Mr Keating), he would know that it specifically pointed out that that is not the case. His point about price control of small businesses is equally specious.

Mr Shipton —Just see what happens in the market-place and see the confusion you create.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Higgins has just finished his speech.

Mr McVeigh —It was a good speech.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —It was a good speech, I agree, but he has had his opportunity and I do not want him interjecting any more.

Mr PUNCH —I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your ruling on the behaviour of the honourable member, but I question your judgment on the quality of his speech . The honourable member went on to mention price control of small businesses. Again, if the honourable member had read the Bill or the second reading speech of the Treasurer he would have been seen that that is not the case. I do not want to dwell on that because much of what he said was completely illogical. However, I want to answer some of the criticisms put by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), the arch aspirant to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia. He came into this House tonight, having been the Treasurer of this nation for seven years--

Mr Hodgman —Five.

Mr PUNCH —The honourable member for Denison says five years. Having governed over the greatest economic malaise in the history of this country since the Great Depression, instead of making a positive contribution for those opposite he attempted to tear apart this Bill by saying that it is an unwarranted, illogical intrusion into business in this country. In that context he went on to criticise the budgetary and fiscal management of this country under the Hawke Labor Government. Let us just put the debate back into perspective. For the benefit of those opposite, let us hear some reminders about the person who came into this House not an hour ago and said that this legislation was an unwarranted, illogical intrusion into business. This is what the Australian newspaper said on 10 March about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition:

Much of it--

that being the economic malaise of this country--

must also be laid at the door of his treasurer of five years, Mr John Howard, who was responsible for framing, with Treasury advice, the last five Budgets of the Fraser government.

Honourable gentlemen opposite should listen to this:

It will take a long time for him to live down his ministerial legacy of huge budget deficits this year and next.

That was said this year of the man who came into this House and spuriously attempted to tear apart this most worthwhile legislation. If that is not enough, let us have a look at the economic record of the man who has the audacity to criticise this Bill. He talked about our unemployment projections for the next couple of years. Let us get the record straight. He presided over the Treasury of this nation when in one year unemployment climbed by a quarter of a million Australians. A quarter of a million Australians went out of work because of that man and the policies that honourable members opposite clung to. He doubts our criteria and he doubts our projections for the alleviation of unemployment in this country. Let me just say that if those opposite care to look at the recently published figures they will see that the latest results show that when the figures are extrapolated over three years the Hawke Government's pledge to create 500,000 jobs over the next three years will be easily reached. In fact, 82,000 jobs have been created since April. Compare that with the Liberal Government's record last year of a growth in unemployment of 250,000. If that is not enough for the honourable member for Higgins and other honourable members opposite, let us see what the recent figures do show. The seasonally adjusted level of total unemployment fell to 694,000 persons in October, or 9.9 per cent of the labour force, compared with 718,600, or 10.3 per cent of the labour force , in July. Let us have some answers to that. Our policies are working under the prices and incomes accord and that is the evidence of it already.

The economic manager of yesterday went on to criticise us so blandly, I believe with the support of honourable members opposite. He had the great audacity, with more hide than a herd of bulls, to come into this House and slam us about a wages policy when the Opposition can present no alternative wages policy to this Parliament, to the people of the country and the business community or the trade union movement.

The wages policy debate coming from those on the other side of this House reads like a three-part Greek tragedy. We have the evil curser, Howard, who seeks to blame everything on wage and income earners in this country, and who buried the axe deep into the social fabric of this country while he was the Treasurer. Then we have the hero of the masses who sits in quietness, scathing away in the private forums of the Liberal Party, the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) who secretly sits over there agreeing with much of what this Government is doing in its wages and incomes accord.

Mr Goodluck —It is true.

Mr PUNCH —As the honourable member for Franklin says, it is true. The honourable member for Balaclava is condemned by his own men. Look at the laughs on the other side! They cannot answer that; it is a party divided with no alternative policy. The third part of the Greek tragedy on the wages policy debate concerns the light humour from the court jester, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock ) who is prepared to agree with anyone on any given day, whoever has the numbers .

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went on to say that we on this side of the House see the success of the wages policy as being Utopia, as the panacea of it all. Again he has misrepresented us. The Bill before the House tonight, like everything else associated with the prices and incomes accord, is part of a total package. For the first time in living history this country has had presented to it a total economic package of fiscal, monetary and wages policies designed to do something about the economic malaise of this country.

Let us just have a look at the alternatives from the other side. There has been no projection of a decent wages policy, as I said, and no fiscal or monetary alternatives put forward. Not one single alternative has come from the other side of this House; yet honourable members opposite have the audacity to argue against this Bill. Members of the Opposition, particularly the honourable member for Higgins, went on to talk about the lack of business confidence that this legislation will create, bashing business and the like. Again, let me quote some figures from the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics outlook of expected private capital investment. The Age of 29 November says:

They show the first sign that the decline in investment of the last years is levelling off.

That is, the decline in investment that occurred under those opposite. Those figures show that if the expectation of the same level of private investment in the December quarter as in the September quarter comes about it will be the first time since the September quarter in 1981 that there has been an upturn in private investment. All that is occurring right now when the business community of this country knew full well that, under the party platform presented to the people in March and endorsed by the National Economic Summit communique, this Prices Surveillance Authority legislation would come to this Parliament before the end of this year. It must be said yet again that the vast majority of people in this country, the business community and the trade union movement, agree with this legislation. The only people left out, the only odd people, are as usual the odd people on the other side of the House.

The philosophy of this Bill is consistent with an overall approach to the economy. It is price surveillance, not price control. Its intent is to monitor and examine prices, not to freeze prices in every sector of the economy.

Mr Hodgman —This is Canberra, not Moscow.

Mr PUNCH —That is right. As honourable members would be aware, to do what the Opposition is accusing this Government of attempting to do a referendum would have to be passed in this country similar to that put by the Whitlam Government in 1974. Everything that those opposite are accusing this Government of doing is completely unconstitutional, and they know it. They know that that is not the intent of this Bill and never has been. They should know also that the Treasurer knows, as he outlined in many speeches in this Parliament and outside, and every member on this side of the House knows that, if economic recovery is to occur there must be a substantial uplift in private sector profit levels. Everyone on this side of the House knows that.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) -I warn the honourable member for Darling Downs , before he takes a point of order, that it should not be a frivolous one. This is a wide ranging debate.

Mr McVeigh —My point of order is that some of us are intensely interested in this debate. We are here to listen. We are interested in price surveillance.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Darling Downs, I think, has gone almost far enough. It has been a wide ranging debate. Many things have been said. What is the honourable member's point of order?

Mr McVeigh —My point of order is that, whilst the debate is a wide ranging second reading debate, it is absolutely irrelevant for the honourable member for Barton to comment on speeches made by the Treasurer outside this Parliament. It is all right for him to quote speeches by the Treasurer on the Bill. It is too far ranging for him to quote speeches made by the Treasurer outside this Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Darling Downs has no point of order. I warned him about taking a point of order that was not relevant. He has no point of order. I warn him against doing so again. I call the honourable member for Barton.

Mr PUNCH —As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by that shining example of the other side of the House, the Treasurer, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and every speaker from this side of the House recognise that the restoration of private sector profits is fundamental to growth in employment and to the rejuvenation of economic growth in this country. The difference is that the Government recognises by this Prices Surveillance Bill that, if that is to come about, this country needs a bit of unity and consensus, not just talk about it. The industrial relations realities of this country are that no longer can any government, whether it be a government of the colour of those opposite or ours, can reasonably expect the trade union movement to bear 95 per cent of the burden of economic recovery. The unions have carried that burden for seven years and will no longer carry it; and nor should they. It is morally bankrupt for those on the other side to expect anything different. If they persist in that, they will do irreparable harm to those they purport to represent; that is, the business sector. While ever there is cause for industrial relations conflict in this country, in this fragile economic time, there will be no hope for a growth in employment and there will be no hope for the restoration of profits which the Opposition talks so dearly of.

I say again, Mr Speaker: The Prices Surveillance Authority is a very small price to ask of the business sector in this country for everything that is being asked of the trade union movement. When the trade union movement is asking to be its own policeman to rein in possible renegades, it is not asking much for the Prices Surveillance Authority to receive the unanimous endorsement of this Parliament and the total support of the Australian community.

Finally, I call on those members opposite who are fair dinkum about seeing the economic growth of this country revitalised and employment opportunities for the young and the middle aged, who have been thrown out of work, really come to pass , to cross the floor, away from the honourable member for Bennelong, come over to this side of the House and vote with the Government for sensible and moral justification of the Prices Surveillance Bill.