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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 578

Senator COOK(3.24) —Senator Maguire has rightly acknowledged that this first annual report of the Economic Planning Advisory Council is an historic milestone. He was right too in acknowledging that EPAC grew out of the national economic summit, probably the most stunning example of economic consensus seeking in the Western world. I do not think that can be repeated often enough. EPAC has a brother organisation, the committee that reviews the prices and incomes accord, and together they show that this Government is dedicated to the idea of disowning the confrontationist tactics which pervaded the previous Government and finding the necessary compromise to get a united effort to make sure that this economy, in the first instance, got started and, in the second instance, keeps going.

The task of EPAC is to draw all the individual interest groups together and to hold their various viewpoints up against a statistical information base, which allows the various weightings of opinion to be judged against performance and facts, and in that environment in the, if we like, more dispassionate, real world environment of what is really happening, to try to find the necessary bridge of compromise for a united approach on economic policy. Perhaps one of the most recent telling comments about EPAC was that uttered by Bryan Kelman, the Chief Executive of CSR Ltd, in an interview reported in the National Times on the weekend. He said something along these lines: There have, of course, previously been other Prime Minister's advisory groups but EPAC has been by far the most successful one and the one that has done the most work and offered the most useful advice. That is not a direct quote, but if one consults the National Times I am sure one will find that it is an accurate capture of the tenor of Mr Kelman's remarks. Coming from such a leading figure in Australian industry, an area that one would expect some criticism of a Labor government to come from, I think that is reasonable praise for the performance of EPAC, the type of work EPAC has been able to do and the type and quality of advice that EPAC has been able to generate.

In commenting on this report, it is necessary to reflect on what the world was like before we were EPAC-ted, and we have no better example than the contrast on our own doorstep of two, if we like, conflicting ways in which one ought to run an economy. We have the EPAC approach that this national Government is taking and we have the Queensland Government approach. On the national plane our economic performance is of great merit and is acknowledged to be so by independent commentators. We find the Queensland economy is suffering severe difficulties. The State is riven with internal dissension and we find being enacted legislation of the sort that should never appear on the statute books, and the old campaign of finding a scapegoat-someone to blame for what is going wrong-being paraded again. There is no greater contrast and, faced with it, I believe Australians will make the right choice and continue with the consensus model.

The post-EPAC performance of this Government is quite significant and the Senate and the wider Australian community should be constantly reminded of it. Two important indicators ought to be recited when reviewing the performance of the Government as advised and led by EPAC on the economic front. Those two indicators-how we have performed on employment and the situation with private investment in Australia-are, I think, both worth citing. In the Hawke Government's period of office, 264,000 new jobs have been created since the summit in April, so we are more than half-way to creating the 500,000 new jobs promised for the first three years of this Government.

Growth in employment last financial year, 1983-84, was 234,000, the largest number in a single year in Australia's history. That is the post-EPAC performance. Pre-EPAC performance under the Fraser Government, by contrast, showed a fall in employment of 186,000 in the last year of that Government. The number of jobs created in the last five years of that Government was about the same as the number of jobs created since the economic summit under the Hawke Government. That is an important contrast.

Turning to private investment, which is traditionally the slowest to recover of all indicators in a recession, private, new, fixed capital spending rose in real terms in the March and June quarters of this year, the first rises since the June quarter of 1982. Of course, under the Fraser Government it declined by 12 per cent in 1982-83. Not all that is due to EPAC, but certainly EPAC has played a significant role in helping to find the basis of consensus so necessary for the resurgence of this economy, and this historic first report charts some of the advice it has been able to offer. I commend it as a worthwhile document to be considered by the Senate..