Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 March 1966

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- I do not wish to concentrate on the actual provisions of this valuable report by the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry because I think it is important, in view of the way in which the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, and members of his Government rubbished this excellent document when it was presented to the House, to remind honorable members of how the inquiry was instituted; the people who were appointed members of it; the general attitude of the Government to a report prepared, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has said, by a committee personally selected by the Government, which had written the terms of reference; and the fact that all the inquiries were made with the full authority of the Government. Because this report was rubbished by the then Prime Minister and because reflections and aspersions were cast on the members of the Committee and certain of their findings. I think we should recall how the report was born, and also a few of the factors associated wilh "the political approach of this Government to the great problems which were covered by the document. I believe the best summary of how the report originated is contained in the "Current Affairs Bulletin" of 6th December 1965, which said -

The Vernon Report had its origin in a decision by the Menzies Government announced by the Prime Minister on October 17, 1962, to appoint a Committee of Economic Inquiry. The decision to hold such an inquiry arose from the events of 1960-61; . . .

Particularly in December 1961 when the Government was within 100 votes of defeat - the unusually severe economic recession that had followed the restrictive measures of November 1960; much public discontent with the so-called " stop-go " policies; the Government's near-defeat in the December, 1961, elections; uncertainty engendered by Britain's moves towards entry into the European Common Market, and the somewhat slow progress of economic recovery during 1962. Two more specific factors precipitated and shaped the decision. One was a vocal and surprisingly widespread public demand for some form of national economic planning on the French model, or at least on the lines of the National Economic Development Council set up by the Conservative Macmillan Government in Britain. The other was an acute controversy over tariff policy that had just culminated in the resignation of the chairman of the Tariff Board.

The Menzies Government was firmly opposed to long-term planning in any form; a once-for-all factfinding economic inquiry was as far as it was, reluctantly, prepared to go.

In other words, the foundation of this report was laid in a period of serious economic difficulty. The Government became panic stricken at the effects of its economic policies - even at this stage its policies are bringing this country to its knees - and the great public reaction to them, and felt that some gesture had to be made to the people as to its intentions in respect of this matter. The former Prime Minister, in a speech in this House on J 3 th February 1963, announced in his usual oratorical manner that an economic inquiry would be instituted. He then outlined the terms of reference to the House and since then they have been available for all to see. They were wide, and extensive and were chosen by the government of the day after many months of consideration and after the fright and panic engendered by near defeat in the election.

On this Committee were many notable citizens. I repeat their names in order that the public may know them. The Chairman was Dr. Vernon, Managing Director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd., which has extensive interests in aspects of primary and secondary industry - a first class Government choice, no doubt, of a man pledged to support a government like this economically and, maybe, politically. He is well known as a man of exceptional ability and judgment - so the Prime Minister said - with a fine record of public service. I agree with all these things. He is a notable man in the community, and Cabinet decided that the chairmanship should go to one who would probably be regarded as detached from any present or past formulation or execution of Government economic policy.

Then there was Sir John Crawford, known to everyone in this Parliament no doubt, and to most people in the country. The then Prime Minister said of him -

Sir JohnCrawford's capacity to take a prominent part in this investigation is universally acknowledged by every section of productive industry and business generally, as well as in high academic circles.

In addition, the then Prime Minister announced the appointment to the Committee of Professor Karmel of Adelaide who, as he said, is a distinguished academic economist of high repute in his own field. Another member of the Committee was Mr. D. G. Molesworth, Chairman of F. J. Walker Ltd., a large meat packing organisation which controls abattoirs and cool stores and has interests in sheep and cattle. There were other qualities associated with him which justified his appointment. Another member was Mr. Kenneth Myer who, as the then Prime Minister said, is well known as Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of the Myer Emporium Ltd. of Melbourne. Sir Robert Menzies finished his speech by saying -

The Government is grateful to these busy and able men who have agreed to accept this additional burden, and is confident that a great purpose will be served by the inquiry on which they are embarking.

I suggest to honorable members that everyone appointed to this Committee was a reputable citizen - a citizen of integrity and capacity. Everyone would have been personally chosen by the Government not only for his ability but because of his support of the Government and the fact this his approach to problems was in line with the Government's thinking on economic matters. I give that background in order that honorable members will know that members of the Committee, personally selected by the then Prime Minister and the Government, were hand picked and were given special terms of reference. There could be no dispute as to their ability to carry out the inquiry. They no doubt believed in the policies and approach of the government of the day. There was also the fact that their report would be of great benefit to the country and one of which notice should be taken. After the Committee had laboured for some time, the report was presented to the Parliament by the then Prime Minister on 21st September, 1965.

As I have said, the Committee was appointed because the Government was tottering on the brink of defeat in this Parliament, with a margin of only one vote. The appointment of the Committee was just a face saving proposal. The Government hoped it would be able to discard the report without comment when it was received and the Government had weathered the economic storms of that time.

Let us see what this document cost to produce. I do not know how many pages it contains, but it comprises two huge volumes which I think weigh 11 lb. This was one of the most extensive researches and inquiries ever undertaken in this country. In answer to a question I asked in this Parliament I was advised by the then Prime Minister on 10 th November 1965 that the Federal Government would have spent almost £150,000 on the Vernon report by the end of the financial year. A report in the " Canberra Times" of 10th November 1965 said -

The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, said yesterday expenditure to June 30 this year was £113,228 and £36,000 had been appropriated in the 1965-66 Budget- a total of £149,228.

Itemised costs since 1962 are:

Salaries £74,454; Consultants' fees £8,086, travelling expenses £23,949; office requisites £7,055; readers' fees £2,281; printing of report £32,360; miscellaneous £1,043.

The report continued -

Sir Robertsaid the cost of a wide range of additional services provided by Government depart ments and non-Government bodies was met by these organisations themselves.

The biggest expenditure was incurred in 1963-64 -£56,085.

I suppose one could say, conservatively, that this document cost - with all the inclusion of the expenses borne by the departments involved - much more than £250,000 to produce. I point out these facts to the House and the people in order to show that we are dealing with a document that is valuable not only in respect of the findings it contains, but also because it was produced at huge cost to the Australian taxpayer. Therefore, the reception which this document was given by the Government of the day should be criticised at this time. The document was produced in Parliament in September 1965 and, according to the reports of that time, the Government rejected the report. If honorable members care to study " Hansard " they will see that the then Prime Minister was very critical of the Committee's findings and that he differed from them on a number of fundamental issues. A newspaper report at the time stated -

The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) last night tabled the report of the Vernon Committee of Economic Inquiry in Parliament and announced that the Government had rejected the committee's principal recommendations.

What does the Government want? It picks the Committee, fixes the terms of reference and spends about £250,000 of the Australian taxpayers' money on the inquiry, and because the Committee's recommendations are not right in line with its outmoded economic policy, the Government rejects them out of hand. Anybody who listened to the former Prime Minister in the Parliament on the night when he presented the report will know that he treated with scorn the findings of these notable Australian citizens and in every way approached the report as if, simply because it did not dovetail with the Government's economic policies which are bringing down the Australian economy, it was anti-Government. As I have said, Sir Robert Menzies stated that the Government rejected the Committee's principal recommendations. The newspaper report continues -

The committee's inquiries had gone beyond the terms of reference set by the Government in 1963, Sir Robert said in a statement which included detailed criticism of conclusions in the 1,800 page, one million word report.

Sir Robertexpressed strong reservations about the committee's proposals for greater use of taxation as an economic regulator.

The committee, he said, had gone beyond its terms of reference in recommending a limitation of capital inflow, selective controls on foreign investment and appointment of a consultative committee to advise on administration of these controls. " We express no opinion on these suggestions at present," he said. " We have been making the necessary preparations for a full Cabinet review of the problem, the practical difficulties of which we al) recognise." 1 now come to Sir Robert's real criticism of the report, which is stated in the newspaper in these terms -

Sir Robertsaid he doubted whether the nation could accomplish the " conscious diversion of resources " which the committee believed imperative if a 5 per cent, growth rate were to be achieved.

Describing the report as " the result of most valuable and painstaking and conscientious examination ", the Prime Minister said: " Some suggestions made by the committee are not acceptable to us, but this does not qualify our deep appreciation of the committee's work.

It is a fortunate country which can enlist in its voluntary service men of such experience and distinction as those who constituted this committee," Sir Robert said. " The report has a magnitude both in scope and detail never approached by any former inquiry."

Was not that a backhanded compliment to these men who had given their time and energy, which were very valuable if we judge by their background and qualifications, to the preparation and presentation of this report? How can the Government expect to get men of this type to serve on committees in the future if they know that a report presented to the Parliament will be treated in this way and discussed only after months of delay? It is now about six months since the Vernon report was presented to the Parliament after these eminent gentlemen had given so much of their time to preparing it. The former Prime Minister declared that their recommendations were not acceptable. I do not see much wrong with some of the recommendations made by the Committee. For example, I see little wrong with the recommendations for the control of foreign investment in this country. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister of the day could not at least have gone more fully into the various aspects of this matter. As I have said, the Committee, in its report, dealt with prac tically everything worth mentioning or of any importance in relation to the economy of this country.

Migration came under review in one section of the report, and this section of the document was criticised in certain quarters because of the suggestion that we should restrict the intake of migrants to 100,000 per annum. If honorable members study the immigration figures of more recent times, they will find that over a period we have been averaging an intake of about 100,000 a year. In no recent year has the figure been much lower. I find it difficult to understand the opposition to the ideas expounded in that section of the report and I do not believe that this opposition can be substantiated. I consider that in Australia growth and development are tied to immigration to a degree possibly unequalled in any other country. The fact that the Committee has stated that it believes that in the immediate future we shall find it exceedingly difficult to maintain an intake of 100,000 migrants a year does not mean that the Committee attacked the migration programme. Rather, this portion of the report impresses on us the fact that a successful immigration programme calls for the provision of houses and many amenities and services without which no immigration scheme can succeed, particularly in this age. However, the Government has chosen to criticise this portion of the Vernon Committee's report.

Various honorable members opposite have stated that many sections of the report are not acceptable to them. Doubtless this is because the report is based on a great deal of research and progressive thinking founded on new and bright ideas. We know, of course, that this Government has no great record in the adoption of new and bright ideas. Sir Robert Menzies, when he presented the report to the House on 21st September 1965, said, referring to the Committee's proposal for the establishment of an advisory council on economic growth -

We unhesitatingly reject this idea.

He chose at the same time to reject many other recommendations in the report and, in doing so, to belittle the judgment and abilities of the group of distinguished men whom he himself had invited to undertake the task of inquiring into the economy, including senior public servants who were appointed to serve on the Committee. In a skilful speech studded with compliments to these talented men and their valuable report, which, he said, would be studied with profound respect, Sir Robert Menzies first reprimanded the Committee for exceeding its terms of reference by making recommendations on policy, while assuring his audience that the Government had no feelings of resentment at this having been done. He then proceeded to offer a number of specific criticisms or as he described them, "observations which might be helpful ".

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are in agreement with that brief summary of the political background to the history of this report. I express the opinion, which has already been stated by other honorable members on this side of the House, that a wealth of valuable information and suggestions is incorporated in this report, which is the product of much research. It is a matter for regret that there has been great delay in the consideration of the report by the Parliament. It is to be regretted also that many of its most valuable recommendations have not received even passing consideration by the Government. Indeed, its policies in the last few months give no indication of a new approach - one might well say any approach - to the economic situation. There is no suggestion of any stimulating approach by this Government to the problem of accelerating the rate of Australia's development. In this Government's planning, even under the new Prime Minister, I see no indication that any part of the Vernon report has been adequately considered and its implementation decided upon.

It is all very well to praise the report and write down the men who were good enough to prepare it for presentation to the Parliament, and who gave up their time and talents to the task for months after being personally appointed and given detailed terms of reference by Sir Robert Menzies, and then completely to discard their recommendations. This shows that the Government has no concern for the general welfare of the economy or the people but prefers to play politics. I think the best that can be said is that this report was sought for political purposes and has been used as a political document for the purpose of saving face for this LiberalAustralian Country Party Government. A quarter of a million pounds was spent on the report, but this Government is not prepared to give effect to its recommendations, though they are valuable in every way to all sections of the Australian community. I have made these points so that the public will know of the attitude of this Government on important economic questions and will be aware that the recommendations even of a body composed of persons hand picked by it will be discarded regardless of the cost to the Australian people if they do not suit the Government.

Suggest corrections