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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2050

Mr McGAURAN(10.35) —Honourable members will recall that on Tuesday 31 March I asked the esteemed Minister for Science and Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices (Mr Barry Jones) to explain why, when the Commonwealth last year took over the marketing arrangements from a private enterprise firm of Royal Australian Mint coin collector sets, the price sky-rocketed by 76 per cent. Honourable members will further recall that the Minister took the question on notice. He has now given an answer and I invite honourable members to peruse the answer when it is published in Hansard. It is an extraordinary answer which reveals the utter hypocrisy and inconsistency on price surveillance of the Government and the Minister, who is not really a Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. Honourable members will appreciate that the answer, as is to be expected, is couched in the most obscure gobbledegook imaginable, which has become a hallmark of this Government as it seeks to avoid giving answers to real questions. As best we can ascertain, there are two reasons for this massive 76 per cent increase in price since the private enterprise arrangement was terminated last year. Firstly, the Minister, in his answer, states:

The major reason for the increase in the price of uncirculated coin sets in 1987 is that the costs of producing these sets have increased significantly in recent years.

In recent years! The enterprise was terminated last year so it has really been only about six months. If the Government is going to blame increased prices in production, why was Jaggard Coins (Aust) Pty Ltd able to absorb these increases and keep prices at a reasonable level? Bear in mind that the 76 per cent increase has occurred in only a matter of months. The second reason given as to why there has been this massive increase-wait for it-is that these coins are rare and the Commonwealth is entitled to make a windfall profit. Let me quote exactly from the Minister's answer:

It is reasonable for the Commonwealth to seek to capture at least part of the scarcity premium attached to these sets.

We have the Commonwealth admitting in a written answer, from the most bumbling and incompetent Minister who could have been chosen for this role, that the Commonwealth is seeking to exploit the scarcity of a product to the detriment of consumers.

Mr Peter Fisher —Just like fuel.

Mr McGAURAN —Yes, just like fuel. Does that mean that it is open slather for all Government monopolies such as Telecom Australia and Australia Post or for private enterprise retailers--

Mr Blunt —They sell them cheaper in Japan.

Mr McGAURAN —I understand from the honourable member for Richmond that these coin sets are actually 30 per cent cheaper in Japan. So here we have the Commonwealth deliberately fleecing-and there is no other word for it-the consumers. It is in black and white. A new level of morality has been injected into the market-place: If goods are scarce one is perfectly entitled to rip off consumers! The hypocrisy, the total inconsistency and the stupidity of this Government's approach to prices is revealed. Of course, we thank the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices for this very revealing information. What would one expect from the man who bungles his way through a supermarket with a camera crew in train and drops goods, does not know prices--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr McGAURAN —No, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —I am sorry. I thought the light had gone out.

Mr McGAURAN —Madam Speaker, it has been a long session and one is forgiven for slight oversights. Let me go back to the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices. He had a camera crew following him around to record faithfully his words and his actions. Where did they end up? Before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. And we get some pontificating from the Minister complaining about his poor treatment.

This Minister is ill-equipped, but we have some sympathy and understanding for him. It is a most obvious treacherous deception for this Government to profess concern about prices when, by its own admission, it is reasonable for the Commonwealth to seek to capture at least part of the scarcity premium. In other words, the Commonwealth, in total defiance of its own proclamation, is ripping off consumers. Surely this Government cannot sink any lower.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.