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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 800

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), a former Minister of the former Government, obviously from the remarks he has just made supports the extortionate price of meat in this country today. This is something about which every housewife knows. As the only speaker from the Australian Country Party in this debate today, he has been very careful in putting forward his case to maintain these extortionate prices. The honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) mentioned to me a short while ago the case of a woman who returned from the United States of America only a week ago after having spent 5 years there. She remarked that the price of meat in the United States was the same as it was in Australia.

Mr Katter - That is not correct.

Mr ARMITAGE - She said that it was the same in the United States as it was here in Australia, while wages were twice as great. For this reason, I should like some members of the Country Party who obviously represent in this House a sectional interest - not the interests of the community as a whole or of the majority of the housewives in Australia - to visit my electorate or the electorate of many other honourable members on both sides of the House. They would realise that today meat is off the menu in many homes because of the extortionate prices being charged.

Honourable members opposite really do oppose the establishment of this committee. This can be seen by a careful look at the way they put forward their amendment. They are not opposing the Bill outright because they know that the Government has a mandate from the people. Honourable members opposite know that the proposal now before the House was one of the issues that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) put to the people during the recent Federal election campaign. Members of the Opposition know that we have the support of the people on this matter and that, if they opposed the proposal outright and it went to the Senate, it could be the subject of a double dissolution. That is what honourable members opposite really fear. So, instead of opposing the proposal outright, they moved an innocuous amendment with which I shall deal shortly.

If ever there were an example of how this proposed committee could be used, it is on the question of the price of meat. The public would be able to make contact with the committee to show the disgraceful situation that exists with regard to the price of meat today. They would be able to submit a case for quotas to be placed on the export of meat. The fact is that, because of the shortage of meat in other countries, practically any price can be and is being claimed for meat. A sound case could be made to lay down quotas on the export of meat in order that the Australian housewife would not be charged so much for meat. This is one of the types of proposals which could be investigated by the proposed committee. Such a proposal may not be adopted, but at least it could be investigated by an authoritative body and not just completely wiped aside as it has been by the representatives of the Australian Country Party. So these are the types of cases which could be considered.

As I said, the Opposition cannot oppose this proposal outright because it knows that the Government has a mandate from the people to institute such action. The Opposition has moved its minor amendment claiming that the terms of reference of the committee should include public authorities. Members of the Opposition have shown by moving that amendment that they do not understand the basic principles of the framework of the Australian Labor Party's prices legislation. For a start, we are not going to have only a committee of this Parliament to investigate prices; we are also going to establish an organisation known as a prices justification tribunal. As suggested by the honourable member for New England, such a proposal is going to be adopted. I am glad to hear that at last he supports something to do with Labor's policy. We will be implementing legislation to establish a prices justification tribunal.

The prices of services charged by public authorities already is covered by another committee of this Parliament. I refer to the Joint Standing Committee on Public Accounts. Honourable members opposite have forgotten that. They completely ignored that aspect. In other words, their amendment if carried would cause a clash between the activities of 2 committees of this Parliament, namely, the Public Accounts Committee and the proposed prices committee. That would set up an extraordinarily confusing and impossible situation. So the amendment moved by the Opposition is absolutely unnecessary. Such activities already are fully covered by another committee of the Parliament.

The attitude, expressed by honourable members opposite throughout has been a completely destructive approach to this issue. They have offered nothing constructive as an alternative to the massive price increases ot recent times. They are acting in exactly the same manner as they acted for 23 years in government. They are acting in exactly the same, way now as they did when they brought about the destruction of their government at the end of last year. Honourable members opposite blame high price only on wages. They claim that wage increases are the only cause of inflation. However, they completely ignore the fact that the demand for wage increases has been brought about by the extortionate, price increases of late. The demand for wage increases was brought about also by the desire of the workers to share in the greatly improved technological ability of the country in recent years - that is, automation. A fortnight ago we heard through the lobbies that members of the Opposition were not only going to oppose this legislation; they were, also going to refuse to serve on the committee when it was established.

Mr Katter - Who said that?

Mr ARMITAGE - A few messages came back to us. Evidently, honourable members opposite now have had second thoughts and have decided, as was stated by the former Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), earlier this afternoon, that they will serve on the committee in order to protect the interests of the various companies that the committee might have before it. In other words, members of the Opposition are not going to serve on this committee to be watchdogs for the housewives and for the community as a whole; they are going to serve on this committee for one purpose only - to protect the interests of the 100 top companies of this country.

Dr Jenkins - They are going to serve as lapdogs for those companies, not as watchdogs.

MiARMITAGE - That is quite obvious. In other words, honourable members opposite will serve on the committee to look after the industrial giants; that is the reason for their change of attitude.

This committee will act as a restraint on price rises because the 100 large organisations whose price increases have a continuing effect over the entire range of the economy will know that the committee will be a watchdog of this Parliament. It will be a committee which the public can approach and which will scrutinise the activities of these companies and which will, of course, be a source of consequent publicity in the event of extortionate price rises occurring. These companies know that this will happen and that is why honourable members opposite oppose the setting up of the committee. Irrespective of what they say and irrespective of their amendment, basically honourable members opposite are opposed to this action in respect of which this Government has a mandate. Let honourable members keep that in mind. Furthermore, the committee will be an important link between the people, the Parliament and the bureaucracy, particularly when the prices justification tribunal is established. Honourable members should keep in mind that this proposal is only a part of the prices framework which will be established in the months to come by the Government.

I should tike to quote to the House some figures relating to the rate of inflation in recent times. This is a ratio of current to constant prices, the constant prices being based on the year 1966-67. It covers a 10-year period. The increase from 1961 to 1962 was 1.1 per cent; in 1963, 1.1 per cent; in 1964 there was a sudden jump to a 4.5 per cent increase; in 1965 the increase was reduced to 2.2 per cent; in 1966 it was 3.2 per cent; in 1967 it was 3.1 per cent; in 1968 it was 3 per cent; in 1969 it was 2.9 per cent; there was a big jump in 1970 to 4.7 per cent; a further increase in 1971 to 5.4 per cent and in 1972 the increase was 6.8 per cent. These increases occurred under the previous Government. The greatest increases occurred at about the time the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) was appointed to the Ministry. Over the 10-year period there was an overall increase of 44 per cent. A point to note is that at the beginning of the 10-year cycle the increase was only 1.1 per cent whereas at the end of the cycle it was 6.8 per cent. Is it not obvious that it is time for some corrective action to be taken?

I have already instanced what has happened to meat prices. This is one article in respect of which something should be done. We should examine various proposals. The public should be able to appear before a properly staffed body. The proposed committee will not have merely a few typists but will be fully staffed and will have research officers. It will have the opportunity of examining various proposals put before it. The committee will be able to recommend action and suggest the use of various instruments which the Commonwealth Government has at its disposal. The committee will become a continuing economic inquiry into trends in the Australian economy. It will be able to recommend that the Government use various instruments at its disposal, including the taxation instrument, the tariff instrument, export controls and so forth.

Is it any wonder that members of the Opposition are somewhat fearful of this committee? For 23 years they continued with their laissez-faire approach, hoping that the situation would correct itself. Instead it has grown progressively worse. In the last 10 years the rate of inflation has increased from 1.1 per cent to 6.8 per cent. This is a disgraceful situation and, as I said, inflation accelerated at about the time the honourable member for Kennedy was appointed to the Ministry.

It is important that this motion should be supported. It is important that honourable members realise that there must be some watchdog. There must be some means of communication between the people and the Parliament. It is important that the Opposition should realise the framework of the prices legislation the Government intends to introduce. This proposed committee of the Parliament will be a committee which the public can approach. It will be an investigating organisation adequately staffed with research officers and others. It will be able to give publicity to restrictive practices and to extortionate price increases. It will be able to recommend to the Government action which should be taken. It will be able to refer matters to various other bodies, including the prices justification tribunal which is to be set up by later legislation. It is well and truly time, as was expounded in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when he was Leader of the Opposition at the end of last year, for the establishment of some ombudsman-type organisation to act as a link between the people, the Parliament and the bureaucracy to ensure that justice is done to all in the community and not simply to one section of it as, for instance, the Country Party.

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