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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1523

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs) - I move:

That theBill be now read a second time.

The Bill that I now present is a companion to the Bill passed by the House last week which sought the approval of the people for our national Parliament to have the power to legislate on prices. This new Bill seeks from the people a corresponding power to legislate with respect to incomes. The question whether an effective campaign against inflation can be mounted through the use of a prices power alone has been debated at great length in the Parliament. For our part, we have taken the view that if the national Government were armed with an explicit prices power its ability to restrain inflation would be strengthened and the upward pressure upon wages and all other incomes would be greatly relieved. But a complementary power over incomes is an additional power that it would be useful to have should the need arise. This is the line I took at the Constitutional Convention earlier this month. I then said that the Government would accept a reference on prices and incomes from the States. I have also made it clear to the House in answers to questions that the Government was ready to give immediate consideration to any proposal coming before the Parliament from any of the Government's opponents to have a referendum on incomes. In reply to a question from the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) on Tuesday, 18 September, I said:

If, for instance, the honourable gentleman or any of his colleagues were today to seek leave to introduce a companion Bill on incomes to match the Bill which is to be debated today on prices, its introduction would be facilitated.

In answer to a question from the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) on Wednesday 19 September, I said:

We are willing to consider immediately any proposition that comes before the Parliament from any of our opponents to have a referendum to control incomes.

Such a proposal has now been made. We have considered it, and it has our support. Therefore, consistent with our view that the people should be allowed to decide these issues, we are introducing this Bill which will enable the matter to be put before them.

It will be for the people to decide, if both the relevant Bills are passed by the Parliament, whether the Parliament is to have power over prices or incomes or both. There is no doubt that a power over incomes could be used if necessary to reinforce a power over prices. Given both these powers the Government will certainly be better equipped to deal with all aspects of the inflationary problem and to introduce broader measures should these prove necessary or desirable. In short, we regard the power over incomes as a helpful adjunct to the power over prices that we are seeking. Indeed, the phrase 'prices and incomes policy' is one of the commonest cliches in discussion of national economic planning in every developed country in the world.

I do not want to give the impression that the Government, if given these powers, will im mediately seek to implement rigid policies of control in the whole area of prices and incomes. It will operate flexibly and selectively as the situation demands. It will act responsibly and in full appreciation of the needs and aspirations of wage and salary earners and the public at large. Above all, it will seek to maintain and improve the purchasing power of the people's earnings.

Nor do I want to give the impression that the Government, if this Bill is approved by the people, would exercise the new power in a purely negative fashion. The State Parliaments have always had the power, and the New South Wales Parliament in particular has frequently exercised the power, to guarantee certain basic standards to wage and salary earners outside Commonwealth awards. Under this Bill the national Parliament could guarantee basic standards throughout the nation. It is unnecessary in speaking to this Bill to repeat the points that have already been made in the current context by the Government and, indeed, by the Opposition regarding the need to control inflation and the policies that are necessary for this purpose. These matters have already been fully canvassed and judging by statements by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and his supporters, I am entitled to presume that whatever their political stand on this Bill there is now a considerable measure of agreement on both sides of the House on the basic question.

We are of course aware that there are differences of opinion whether this power over incomes, in addition to the power over prices, is really necessary to deal with inflation. We, for our part, take the reasonable view that the possession of both powers by the Australian Parliament would be consistent with the position in most other countries and that we should now advance the proposal that it be sought from the people for their national Parliament. If this Bill, and the Bill the House passed last week, are passed by the Senate before the Parliament rises this week, both Bills can be submitted together to the Australian people for their decision before Christmas. I commend the Bill to the House.

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