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Monday, 22 October 1973
Page: 2409

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - The statement by the Leader of the Government - the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) - comes at a very strange time. Having been asked a question about what the Government intended to do about inflation, he refused to answer that question at all and he put together a long series of alleged actions taken to combat inflation. During the period in which this series of actions took place, inflation has climbed - as measured by the consumer price index - from 3.2 per cent in the months April, May and June to 3.6 per cent for the months July, August and September. Quite clearly those actions bear no relation to an attack on inflation as it exists today. Indeed, if there is to be a relationship between revaluation and the 25 per cent acrosstheboard tariff cut made without any reference whatever to the Tariff Board - a decision totally taken on a Sunday night together with a decision to increase interest rates - it is to be found in the fact that by these measures the Government has made inflation more severe and more savage in Australia rather than take any action to eliminate it. If the Government's actions are to have any effect it will be in the long term, and that long term effect next year is very likely to lead to unemployment in Australia.

Mr Martin - I rise on a point of order. As I understand the situation, the Leader of the Opposition was given leave to make a statement about the Prices Justification Tribunal fixing steel prices. He complained about breaches of undertakings. When he acts like this no wonder undertakings are not given.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! There is no point of order involved. The Leader of the Opposition sought leave to make a statement.

Mr Whitlam - On that point, I understood that it was to be a statement on the subject that I had raised.

Mr SPEAKER - When leave is given to make a statement, the Chair cannot specify on what subject it is to be made.

Mr Whitlam - The whole basis upon which the right honourable gentleman sought leave to make a statement was apropos a very brief statement I made on my tabling of the notification by BHP as I am required to do by statute. The right honourable gentleman has not mentioned the BHP notification to this stage.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I understand the position. I re-emphasise that the Chair has no jurisdiction over the subject on which an honourable member seeks leave to make a statement.

Mr Hansen - Mr Speaker, if the statement being made by the Leader of the Opposition is in regard to a statement that has been incorporated in Hansard by the Prime Minister, are members of the House entitled to have a copy of the statement made by the Prime Minister?

Mr SPEAKER - Order! That is a matter entirely for the House to decide and not for the Speaker.

Mr SNEDDEN - Among the various meassures which were alleged by the Prime Minister to have made an impact on inflation, which have brought it from 2.1 per cent in the first quarter this year to 3.3 per cent in the second quarter and 3.6 in the third quarter, was the Prices Justification Tribunal legislation. That piece of legislation was before this House on 17 May. It is now 22 October. In the statement the Prime Minister made he said that the inquiry into steel prices is the first inquiry to be conducted by the Tribunal. The Prices Justification Tribunal is being referred to by most people as the prices exemption tribunal, because the greatest amount of work it has had to do has been to exempt companies so that they could charge the extra amount involved in the imposts of the Budget of the Treasurer (Mr Crean). It was known as the prices exemption tribunal when all those hundreds of exemptions were going through. The first inquiry relates to Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. Is this a multi-national corporation about which the heretics on the other side of the House keep screaming? No, this company is the major Australian company.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Mr Speaker, did I hear rightly when I heard the right honourable gentleman describe honourable gentlemen in this Parliament as heretics?

Opposition members - Yes.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then I ask for its immediate withdrawal and an apology.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! It has always been the practice of this House and of my precedessors since I have been a member of the House to rule that any such comments, unless directed at any honourable member in particular, are allowable. If he had said that someone personally was a heretic he would be required to withdraw it. Under the circumstances, no point of order is involved.

Mr Reynolds - I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to make sure of the position because this will be a guideline for all subsequent occasions. Apparently when a Minister or any other person seeks leave to make a statement he is not required to make such a request for a specific purpose. I understood that leave was sought to make a statement on a specific matter. If that is not the case I give notice that in future if a request is made I will oppose it because what is now happening represents a clear breach of my understanding of what this matter was about.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I would ask the Leader of the Opposition to keep as near as possible to the subject matter on which he sought leave to make a statement.

Mr SNEDDEN - I sought leave to make a statement on the Prices Justification Tribunal, about which I am speaking. I deliberately used the word 'heretic' because the Australian Labor Party throughout its whole life has declared itself to be a party which supports low interest rates. In 10 months of government the Labor Party has increased interest rates by per cent. That is heretical and it is entitled to have the word I used ascribed to it. The Labor Party has let down the people who trusted it. At the time of the last Commonwealth loan people relied on a 7 per cent long term bond rate but within 2 months that rate was increased to 8½ per cent. This cut off almost $40m from the worth of the money that was subscribed to that loan. If that is not heretical, what is?

Regarding the Prices Justification Tribunal, there has been a clear admission by the Goernment that what we said at the time of its establishment was correct, namely, that it would not work. We said that we would let the legislation pass. We felt that if we gave the Government enough rope it would demonstrate its incapacity to handle the question of inflation. This is exactly what has happened. In October the first report of the Tribunal has been received and it concerns Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. That company applied for a 9.4 per cent increase in its prices because of increasing costs in its industry. Those costs were such that it had to increase its prices or else change its investment pattern. This is the sort of distortion that the Government's policy is producing. If Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd cannot increase its prices in order to recover its costs and maintain a reasonable profit level on the making of steel, quite clearly it will have to divert its investment elsewhere. What government would want investment diverted elsewhere when there is already a shortage of iron and steel products which are produced by this company? Is this a government that wants a continuing state of shortages? Is this a government that wants a diversion of the economy away from basic material production? Does the government want the real strength of the economy diverted into merely satisfying temporary consumer demand? The very fact that the Government wants a referendum on prices is, in itself, a clear admission that the Prices Justification Tribunal has failed, as everybody knew it would fail. For the Prime Minister to come into this House and proudly put down a statement, which is the first report of the Prices Justification Tribunal, and at the same time be totally unwilling to tell this House what the Government intends to do about inflation and instead trot out a series of actions that have been taken and which bear no relation to today's inflationary pressures, shows a total lack of understanding of the seriousness of the problem that we face in Australia today.

There is no credit in this statement for the Government at all. There is no joy in it for the future of the Australian people and of Australia's economy. It can be regarded only as another contribution to confusion and uncertainty. It will make the people of Australia understand that while this Government continues in office there is not the hope for Australia which we are entitled to expect.

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