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Thursday, 18 October 1973
Page: 2382

Dr GUN (Kingston) - This is the first time since I have been in this Parliament that I have heard the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) speak on any subject that had any relevance to economics. Having beard his first efforts since I have been here I think he would be better off sticking to his pop-guns. It is obvious from what the honourable member said that ,he is very unhappy about the opposition of the Liberal Party to this Bill because he said almost nothing in support of it. We have just heard the honourable member for Barker demeaning himself and sacrificing any integrity he ever had at the altar of the Australian Country Party. It is quite obvious that the honourable member for Barker is extremely worried about the activities of the Country Party in South Australia and particularly the activities of the Country Party in the electorate of Barker. So he is pretty quick to jump off the bandwagon of his own party and dissociate himself from the decision of that party to support the Bill.

Mr Willis - He is having 2 bob each way.

Dr GUN - It is a perfect example of trying to have 2 bob each way. This Bill is one of enormous importance. Its purpose is to ensure that there is proper justification for all forms of government assistance to private industry. It means an end to the pork barrel type of politics which have been practised for so many years by successive Liberal and Country Party governments and especially by the Country Party. In future all forms of government assistance to industry will have to be subject to rigorous analysis to ensure that it will mean the most efficient use of the nation's resources. From now on, before any forms of State aid are to be given to any private industry it will be mandatory for the matter to be referred to the Industries Assistance Commission for report. After the Commission has made its report the Government can make its decision one way or the other. It does not mean that the Government must carry out the recommendations of the Commission, otherwise that would mean that the Commission would be usurping the role of the Government.

The Commission's role will be advisory only. But if the Government makes a decision which differs from the recommedations of the Commission the Government will be morally obliged to give a public justification for its departure from a decision which was made by an impartial body. This means a very great change from the days when state aid to industry was doled out on the basis of Country Party patronage. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that the Country Party is so strongly opposed to this legislation. It is contrary to its whole system of government which consists of handing out state aid to sectional interest groups at the expense of the taxpayers and the consumers.

It is no wonder that the Country Party opposes this measure. Let us not forget who paid for the building of McEwen House, the lavish headquarters of the Country Party in Canberra. Of course, it was the recipients of political patronage under the wing of the Country Party. No doubt these are the same people who enabled the Country Party to purchase its splendid premises in Mugga Way, Canberra. These people will not stand for being displaced from their positions of privilege. The Country Party is dead scared of there being an impartial inquiry into its method of government. Without doubt, many Country Party schemes would never have hit the deck if they had had to go before the Industries Assistance Commission. A very obvious example of this is the wool deficiency payments scheme which subsidised wool prices so that growers received at least 36c per lb for their wool. The great trouble with the scheme was that the more wool a grower sold, the more he received. So the big growers - the ones who least needed help - received the most. That is precisely what the Country Party intended. But if the proposal had gone to an industries assistance commission some more equitable method would have been found to help those wool growers who were most in difficulty.

The Australian Labor Party believes in intervention where it is necessary to protect full employment and to ensure high living standards. For that reason we believe that assistance to private industry - whether it is primary, secondary or tertiary - must be based on sound economic or social grounds and not on short term political gain. The Australian Labor Party believes in economic planning. The Commission will be able to carry out effective economic planning to ensure that Australia's resources of material, manpower, technical knowhow and capital can be used to ensure rising living standards for all Australians. This Government has already taken some very courageous and important economic decisions. I refer to decisions such as the revaluation of the Australian dollar and the 25 per cent reduction in tariffs. Not surprisingly, these decisions have drawn criticism from certain special interest groups. But they were essential decisions under the prevailing economic conditions.

In these circumstances I think it is worth looking at the attitude of the 2 Opposition parties. The Liberal Party' was pretty nonspecific and generalised in its criticism. For the most part its members were careful not to criticise specifically the decisions that were taken. The one exception that surprised me was the view expressed earlier tonight by the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards). I hope to have enough time to refer to what he said. As far as the Country Party was concerned, there was no equivocation. There was round condemnation of those responsible decisions taken by the Government. We have seen, as we so often see, a division of opinion betwen the Country Party and the Liberal Party. It is the same sort of situation we had when the question of revaluation of the currency arose in 1971. I suggest that the people of Australia ought to ponder over this question because it will always be the Country Party that prevails. I have no doubt that when the decision about the currency was being taken in 1971 the Country Party members of the Cabinet threatened to withdraw from the coalition unless they got their way on the currency alignment. I say to the people of Australia: Do not be deceived by the support the Liberal Party is giving to this Bill because if the day ever comes again when there is a non-Labor Government in Australia it will be the Country Party that makes the decisions and the Liberals, as they have always done, will meekly follow along behind.

Just have a look at what has happened in regard to the Bill before the House. The Country Party is against it. The Liberals say that they are in favour of it. Which side has vigorously come forward and put its point of view? Has it been the Liberals? Of course not. They let the Leader of the Country Party, the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), lead for the Opposition. The Leader of the minority Party led for the

Opposition. What happened when the honourable member for Berowra led for the Liberal Party? What did members of the Country Party do? They staged a walk out. Only one member of the Country Party remained. They showed their digust. They are prepared to bludgeon their coalition friends to get whatever they want.

I believe that there are people within the Liberal Party who know that the measure that we have introduced is a correct measure. Probably the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury), who now is in the chamber, appreciates that this is a just and correct measure. However the Liberals do not want to make the running. They let the Country Party make the running for them every time. While the right honourable Leader of the Country Party loudly pleads for the retention of pork barrel politics the Liberals are cowed into silence. This is how the coalition works in opposition and is certainly how it would work in government. As I have said, there may be some men of goodwill within the Liberal Party but in all cases they will be cowed by the gross materialism of the Country Party. The Country Party wants to continue giving handouts to all industries without their having to be subject to scrutiny.

The attitude of the Australian Labor Party is to give assistance to industries where such assistance can be publicly justified and shown to be in the interests of the recipients and of the community at large. We want assistance to be justified on proper social and economic grounds, not on the ground of political patronage. The Industries Assistance Commission will be able to carry out effective long term planning. It will be something more than the present system under which the Tariff Board makes an ad hoc examination of particular industries to see whether they are economic or efficient.

I want to make a few random remarks about the functions of the Commission in this regard. It will not just make ad hoc examinations of individual industries; it will consider the overall allocation of resources in Australia in primary, secondary and tertiary industries. I agree - I think we all agree - that we should provide adequate protection for economic and efficient industries, but we have to look beyond that. If we look at comparative efficiencies of different industries we should honestly say which industry might - be the more efficient.

The more economic and more efficient industry might be that which by definition requires a lesser degree of assistance from the Government. I think that this is a consideration which applies especially in rural industries.

The most important function of protection is the provision of full employment. I am very pleased to see that this is spelled out as a most important factor in clause 22(1) of the Bill. This, of course, is consonant with the policy of the Australian Labor Party which is the Party of full employment. At the same time we should be directing our resources to areas where we can provide full employment while at the same time avoiding excessive protection. If we can provide full employment without providing excessive protection, we will gain higher living standards for Australian workers. It will mean that the capacity of industry to pay higher wages is much increased, and in the long term I believe that it will mean greater employment opportunities.

There may be other non-economic reasons for providing protection or assistance to an industry. The Industries Assistance Commission might look at an industry and decide that on economic grounds alone there may not be justification for assistance to it, but it will be able to look at other factors as well and the Government, in subsequent consideration of the matter, also can look at other factors. There are other reasons why protection may be justified even if there is no aggregate unemployment. There are particular cases. For instance, a decentralised industry may require some special assistance. I suggest that, if part of an industry is decentralised, the best way to protect it might be to give that part a special subsidy rather than to give an across the board subsidy to all people operating in that industry.

Another reason for special assistance might be on the social ground that a particular industry is providing for females employment which otherwise might not be available. Apart from economic grounds, we sometimes justify the retention or provision of assistance to an industry which may be inefficient on the basis that if that industry were to go it would mean that many workers in that industry, either primary or secondary, might have to be uprooted and to change their whole way of life. That action might not be justified on social grounds. We have to bear in mind, when we say this, that the person involved might be paying some price for not going into a different industry. The price he might be paying is the capacity to earn a higher wage in another industry which is more efficient.

There has been one other important revolutionary change in attitude to tariff policy during the lifetime of the Whitlam Government. This change came about during the recent 25 per cent reduction in tariffs. I refer, of course, to the provision of S25m assistance to those industries and employees who may have been or may be affected adversely by the tariff reduction. This is a most important innovation. I think that pretty soon we must come to the time when if, for any reason - technological change, alterations in tariff policies, mergers or any other reason - a worker is required to change his job he will require support to ensure that he does not lose anything in wages, he will require support in retraining and he may even require support in re-housing and moving himself and his family to a place more convenient to his employment.

I should like to refer briefly to a matter that was raised by the honourable member for Berowra before dinner. I was very surprised to hear him express opposition to the 25 per cent tariff reduction. I really find it hard to believe that he is opposed to the proposition. It is a good idea to reduce tariffs without causing unemployment, if that can be done. If there is a time to reduce tariffs, surely in the present economic circumstances this is the time. The honourable member for Berowra suggested that after the industrial boom in certain Western European countries quietens down there may be a flood of imports which could cause some degree of unemployment in Australia. I find this proposition hard to accept, especially at present when there are 80,000 unfilled job vacancies within Australia. The implementation of the policies of the Government is creating a considerable number of employment positions within the public sector, which means, of course, in the fields of education, housing and health. Apart from that, there is a radical departure from previous policies in that there is a reduction in the overall immigration quota.

In those circumstances I find it extremely hard to accept the proposition that anything this Government has done has compromised in any way the employment situation in Australia. Even if a situation of unemployment did arise, we have provision for temporary assistance to be applied on an emergency basis, as any honourable member who reads the present legislation can readily see. If we are to restructure industry to bring it to its most efficient state, surely now, in the present economic circumstances, is the time to bring about such a change. I have much pleasure in supporting this Bill. I am sure that it is a correct economic decision and that the result of it will be a great improvement in the living standards of the people of Australia. I point out that this Bill would not have been achieved under any government other than an Australian Labor Party government. Honourable members can be sure that if the Australian Labor Party were not in power, whatever members of the Liberal Party felt about the Bill they would be stood over by their Country Party coalition partners who would do what they have done on every occasion in this Parliament that a progressive measure suggested by this Government has been debated - oppose it.

Debate interrupted.

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