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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2746

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The Bills before the House today cover a rather wide range of Government expenditure. One cannot have other than apprehension about what the future economic situation in Australia will be, when viewing the total scene as we see it at the moment. Our recent current account for the last 3 months - that is, the third quarter, as it is known - indicates the strong position in which the previous Government left the economy. In other words, we find in the current account a very strong improvement in relation to all our exports. But when we look at the capital account, we find a completely reverse situation. I repeat what I said in the House a few weeks ago: I believe the Government should be well aware of what is happening in this area and should take note of the situation, because no country can affort to reverse its situation in one 3- month period by over $ 1,000m, which has happened here.

As I said, the accounts which we are studying cover a wide field. One such area is the Department of Urban and Regional Development. I notice that a new sum of $1,141,000 appears in this account but I can find no indication of where this money will be spent and exactly what it is for. I suggest that later in the debate, if the opportunity is presented - we hope it is - the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) might indicate precisely what will happen to that amount of $1,141,000. This morning, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development referred to the excessive price of land in the city areas. We are all well aware of this; the competition for land in these areas is very severe. But the Minister did not mention in the course of his answer to the question what would be the situation if, for instance, decentralisation did take place in these areas.

He did not mention what would be the price of land in areas other than the metropolitan areas of the Commonwealth. I believe that this is the area in which the Government should be endeavouring to encourage development - beyond the major cities of Australia. If this were done, the price of land would be considerably cheaper and the pressure would be considerably less than it is at the moment in the various cities around Australia.

I want to deal today with a number of statements which have been made by various Ministers of the Government. One cannot help but feel a little disturbed at some of these statements. Perhaps it was all very well when the now Government was in Opposition for various statements to be made, but when the situation is reversed and statements are made by Ministers then, of course, the public and honourable members take note and a lot of consideration is given to those statements. I refer firstly to a statement made in this House on 17 May 1973 by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in relation to home building societies. This statement has had repercussions around Australia and I believe it is very much to be regretted that a statement of this nature was made. In reply to a question on that day referring to home building societies throughout Australia, the Treasurer, amongst other things, said:

They are the kinds of organisation that cut across all the canons of prudent finance; that is, they borrow short and lend long.

Building societies have been operating for a long time. In Britain, they have been running since 1775; in another couple of years, there will have been 2 centuries of them. In Australia, they have been operating since 1859. In my own State of Western Australia, where we have excellent building societies, they have been operating since 1862. Surely the operators of these societies not only in this country but also beyond this country have had a tremendous experience in this field and have done a tremendous job. In fact, when the first building society was established in Western Australia, there were only 17,000 people in the entire State. So the building societies have had experience from the very beginning of the development of that State.

The Treasurer says that they borrow short. As I see it, it is a theory-practice to make o statement like that. I might say at this point that I have been in this House for a number of years and listened with considerable interest, to many of the speeches the present Treasurer made in this House when he was on the Opposition benches. I respected many of them, as I respect his opinions. However, it is unfortunate that that theory statement should have been made because it is not the fact in practice. The practice, of course, is that the building societies do borrow some of their money short, but they also borrow some of their money over a longer term and, above all, the societies - that is, at least the good societies - certainly have plenty of back up funds. I think one must investigate very thoroughly the exact position of these establishments before one makes this sort of statement.

The Treasurer said: 'They lend long'. It is well known that they do. In many cases, the building societies write contracts for home owners covering 25 years or more. But what is the actual practice? The average length of loan in the Commonwealth, as I understand it, is around 8 years; it is not 20 or 25 years. There is a big difference between the actual - that is, the practice - and the theory. How many times have economists around the world voiced various economic theories and become completely unstuck? I regret very much that the Treasurer made that statement and I regret also that I have to stand here and say these words. But I think it is important to indicate to the people of Australia that these societies - in the main, at oil events - are sound. They have been operating for a long time and have tremendous experience. There should be a close analysis of their actual position before such statements are made. I know that the statement has been made previously, not in the House but outside, that building societies that borrow short and lend long cannot operate. The proof of the pudding ia in the factual operation of these societies, the back up funds which they have and the actual practice which they have been carrying out over many years.

The second statement to which I want to refer was made in this House on 23 May 1973 during a debate on rural industries. It was one of a number of statements in the same vein which were made by the now Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby). He was referring to a number of policies of the previous Government and indicating that the previous Government did not carry them out. This is the statement of the Minister for Immigration, to which I want to refer:

Their, was another very interesting policy speech in which it was said that the cost of petrol is to be no more than 4c a gallon above the city price anywhere in Australia. That is an Interesting point. Have honourable members opposite forgotten about than one? Perhaps they ought to have a look at it

Well, we will have another look at it. The inference contained in that statement is that nothing was done about that policy by the Australian Country Party and the previous Government. These are the sorts of things that are being said by Ministers and which go out to the public, but which are completely false. The original speech that was made in the House in relation to this matter was made on 12 May 1965. My memory of what has taken place over the years is very good. Nevertheless, I asked the Parliamentary Library to supply an analysis and tabulation of the facts to refresh my memory of events. At that time the appropriate Minister outlined the proposals of the Government After some years amendments were required and on 18 September 1969 a statement was made in the House detailing the amendments necessary to make the scheme a little more flexible. It has been operating since 1965-1966 rand has proved to be worth while. It was introduced to bring to people in all parts of Australia a range of five fuels at prices no more than 4d a gallon above ruling city prices. It was decided that for the purposes of the scheme Sydney prices would be used as the basis of prices to be charged in the Northern Territory.

For the benefit of the Minister and the House I will outline what has happened. The scheme commenced in October 1965 and was designed to reduce the wholesale prices of petroleum products in rural areas to within 3.3c a gallon of capital city prices. Sydney was taken as the relevant capital city for the purpose of Northern Territory prices. In order to show the significance of the policy which was introduced in 1965 I will cite the payments made in respect of the scheme. In 1965-66, $10,262,000 was paid; 1966-67, $15,968,000; 1967-68, $17,569,000; 1968-69, $19,264,000; 1969-70, $22,367,000; 1970-71, $23,829,000; 1971-72, $25,230,000; and in 1972-73 payment is estimated at $26,800,000. So much for the policy at which it is suggested we should look again. I and many other Australians are concerned that a responsible Minister should claim that nothing had been done about a policy which is very important to many people in Australia. One wonders what is to happen to the policy which was instituted by the previous Government and has benefited so many people if the present Government is to take no more interest in it than has been indicated by one of its Ministers.

I turn now to deal with the wool industry. I have had very little to say about the wool industry in this session because the facts have spoken for themselves. On 10 May 1973 the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), answered a question in his capacity of representative in this House of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt). In his answer he referred to an amendment proposed by the Labor Party to a Bill assented to in October 1972. Labor made it a red hot propaganda issue during the election campaign. He stated that the Labor Party had moved an amendment seeking that within 3 months the proposed plan for the wool industry be made available for examination as most sections of the industry wanted details of the plan. He said 'within 3 months', as appears in the Hansard report, but the amendment moved by him on 12 October il972 did not refer to a period of 3 months. It stated 'within 6 months'. The difference of 3 months is very important in this issue.

The legislation was amended to bring together at that time the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission to form a corporation as from 1 January 1973. The purpose of the amendment moved by the Labor Party at that time was to make the operative date 30 June 1973. In other words, Labor was seeking to give the Australian Wool Corporation 6 months to produce a recommendation to the Government. When the present Minister for Northern Development was answering the question on 10 May and to some extent castigating the Corporation for not bringing down a recommendation, saying that Labor wanted it within 3 months, he was citing a period different from that which appeared in Labor's proposed amendment. The amendment was not accepted. Had it been carried the Corporation would still have another month in which to produce its recommendation. Statements such as that made by the present Minister for Northern Development create wrong impressions. Despite what was said at that time about the wool industry, today it is in great heart This situation has been brought about despite what was said about the legislation when it was introduced and repeated- when it was amended to amalgamate the 2 authorities in October of last year.

Section 41 of the Act is a major provision. I mentioned earlier the healthy condition of our current account. An examination shows that a major factor in that condition is the wool industry. People who know what they are talking about appreciate the connection between the introduction of the legislation and the present healthy condition of our current account. Much unfounded criticism has been levelled over the years at the previous Government's treatment of the wool industry. It overcame tremendous odds, details of which I do not have time to spell out now. Supporters of the present Government should stop their criticism. The Government will have to stand up to the pressures which will be brought to bear on the wool industry. It has always had pressures and always will. The testing time is to come for this Government.

I have no doubt that the Corporation will stand up to pressure. The question is whether the Government will stand up to the pressures brought about through section 41 of the Act. If the Government stands by what has been said in this House by its supporters in the last few years, all the work done over the last few years by the previous Government and by wool growers will be undone. I ask the Government not to run away from section 41 of the Act, to stand behind the Corporation and the wool industry, the greatest industry in this country. It will be there for a long time to come, but if it does not have the support of the Government, regardless of any legislation that might be introduced -

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