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Tuesday, 14 March 1961

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) - The business before the House, Mr. Speaker, is a motion of want of confidence in the Government. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has not set out to defend the Government. He has evaded the issue and has introduced matter not related to the business before the House and has sought, by this diversionary move, to take the minds of members and of the electors of Lilley away from the central issue which is the guilt of the Government and those who voted for the Government's measures. Tt has become a habit of Government supporters when among their constituents to blame Mr.

Menzies, Mr. McEwen and Mr. Harold Holt and say, " This is ministerial action. I would not have voted for it. I do not believe in it, but the Government has foisted this upon us. We are totally opposed to the increased sales tax on motor vehicles and to credit restrictions and the flood of imports. Those things are a horror to us."

Let us look at the roll call of the guilty men who voted for the measures introduced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in November last. Not one word of protest was made by the honorable member for Lilley; not one whisper of protest came from any member on the Government side of the House against what had taken place. Surely to-day the honorable member for Lilley, as a Queenslander, should have been heard in this place saying something about the calamity that has overtaken the timber industry of Queensland and the fact that nine timber mills have closed north of Townsville, and about the problems besetting the people generally in that State. Unemployment is growing. Yet the honorable member for Lilley has done nothing and said nothing about it. In this war of attrition against the Australian people, it is a remarkable thing that backbenchers on the Government side have been so quiet. The silence of Dean Maitland is nothing compared with the silence of members on the Government side who refuse to protest in this place against what the Government has done and is doing. Yet when they go to their electorates they are very vocal in clubs and other places in objecting to the Government's measures.

Parliament now has an opportunity to interpret public opinion and to censure the Government. The overwhelming view of tha Australian people is that the Government, has failed and has treated the Australian people in a contemptuous manner. The public is resentful about the manner in which the sharp increase in the sales tax on motor vehicles was applied and then withdrawn, causing hardship to those who paid the additional tax. The Government's measures caused hardship to certain motor sales organizations which have been obliged to depend upon other means of raising finance for the purchase of motor cars. Some of them are to-day holding a number of vehicles upon which they paid the higher rate of sales tax and must now sell to the public at the lower rate. Representations have been made to the Government in regard to this fact, but, again-, the Treasurer has refused to act. He has done nothing to heed the point of view of the people in this matter. The public is resentful about the manner in which the sharp increase in sales tax was made and many members on the Government side of the House are utterly disgusted to think that their Government has failed them in this way. The credit squeeze has made many erstwhile supporters of the Government disillusioned and bitter, and that is not surprising. The motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has clearly stated the justifiable indignation at the Menzies-McEwen Government's sabotage of the nation's economy. What has happened was planned. It was a deliberate campaign and was announced to the Parliament on 15th November, 1960, by the Treasurer. It was the Government's plan - a Liberal Party and Country Party plan. The public has become accustomed to the winds of change, under which the Government's policy and attitude have changed from time to time.

We have had import restrictions and import floods, credit restrictions and credit booms, and we have had crippling taxation and taxation concessions to the favoured few. Both the horror Budget and the little horror budget stand out in this coalition Government's black economic record of stops and starts, of expansion and contraction. This Government has no real policy, no clearly denned line of action to be pursued over twelve months or the life of the Parliament. It has done nothing but start and stop, twist and turn all round the compass to the north, south, east and west. But that is not surprising when we realize that this is a coalition government in which two sets of hands, those of the Australian Country Party and those of the Liberal Party, are taking the tiller in turn in an endeavour to steer the ship of State.

The 1960 plan of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) was said to be designed to arrest the run-down in our overseas reserves. But since its introduction, our overseas balances have continued to fall. At the time when the Treasurer's plan was outlined, almost every one had a job. At that time, factories and mills were busy and our home economy was expanding. To-day economic insecurity and uncertainty hang like a pall over the nation. Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear in its turn is the breeding ground of depression. I warn the Government that its eccentric policy may be harder to reverse than its leaders seem to think.

Where will all these variations of policy, all this turning the heat on one minute, turning it off the next, all this steering north and then steering south, end? The result must be obvious to us all. This Government's plan is causing internal chaos in Australia, and certainly it is not arresting the serious decline of our overseas reserves. But what has happened has been what the Government planned. For instance, the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton), the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies), the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) have all directed our attention to the chaos in the timber industry, but this Government refuses to do anything about it. Of course, the closing of the timber mills and the unemployment of the workers in those mills are all in accordance with the master plan. Every honorable member on the Government side is guilty of having brought about the dismissal of each person who loses his employment under this master plan. Not one of them can be excused because each one has supported the Government's vicious plan. This is the Government's policy, this is the Government's way of doing things. If it does not create unemployment, if it does not restrict the expansion of the economy, it is not doing its job. All this loss of employment in the motor and textile industries has been decreed in the Government's plan, as is emphasized by the following extract from the speech delivered by the Treasurer in this House on 15th November last: -

Most of the measures which I shall now announce will be given immediate, or almost immediate, effect. Some will involve legislation; others will not. But they all belong to a general plan of action and are closely related to one another. I therefore propose to explain them together.

And all those proposals were supported by every honorable member who sits behind the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen), who is

Leader of the Country Party. The Treasurer went on to say -

Nevertheless, we have to conserve these overseas reserves, which are so vital to the functioning of our economy, because we cannot be sure what external conditions will be in time ahead. Placed as we are, we can never afford to be extravagant with imports.

What a contradiction! What an extraordinary statement! Despite the great inflow of capital from overseas, despite heavy borrowings by which Australians are being sold into bondage overseas, our overseas reserves have fallen to something like £300,000,000, the lowest point at which they have ever been in our history. No wonder, as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) has said, honorable members on the Government side are desperately endeavouring to talk about all sorts of subjects other than the matter now before Parliament. They hope to divert the attention of the people from the true position. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) has said that we must encourage an inflow of capital. What climate is there for inducing an inflow of capital when we have such economic disturbance, chaos and turmoil in the country? Surely an expanding economy provides a much more favorable climate for the encouragement of capital from overseas. The Treasurer also said -

Plainly enough, to safeguard our overseas funds position, we must reduce the excessive internal demands which are the main reason why imports continue to run high.

The Government has closed down Australian industries while allowing the flood of imports to continue unabated. In this war of attrition, the Government is not prepared to adopt the obvious, clear, straightforward honest policy of imposing selective import restrictions by regulation. It prefers to allow financial considerations to determine what shall be imported. It prefers a policy under which the person who has the money may import all the luxury items he wishes while the person who is short of money is unable to buy those things essential to the development of the country. Under the Government's present policy, our overseas balances will continue to decline until eventually we shall reach the stage at which we shall not be able to import even essential goods because we shall not have the money with which to pay for them. But the Treasurer goes blithely on his way, and I emphasize again that every honorable member on the Government side supported the proposals he put forward. In his speech on 15th November last, the Treasurer also said -

But to reduce excess spending is something we would have to do in any case . . . Spending has, of course, been strongly on the rise for a considerable time past, and the Government has, at successive stages, taken action to restrain it.

The Treasurer did say that some Industries were running along quite normally. But he was not satisfied with that! He had to sabotage, indeed, destroy them. For instance, he could not rest content until he had brought the timber industry of Australia to a standstill, while allowing a flood of timber to come in from overseas. Certainly, this Government has been outstandingly successful in promoting the trade of foreign powers, but it has failed dismally in promoting Australian trade. We are entitled to look for consistency in a government, but this Government's policy has been wholly inconsistent. So worried have they become at the position that has arisen that certain members of the Liberal Party say to the people outside this Parliament, " The eggheads, the bureaucrats in the Department of Trade are the people who want this sort of thing. This is McEwen's policy, it is not the Government's policy. We are against it. The Country Party, the freetrade party, has forced this on us." On 17th March, 1960, twelve months ago, in speaking to the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech, the Acting Prime Minister said -

Are we to abandon our policy of full employment; our objective of expansion at as fast a pace as we can achieve, and our purpose of high prosperity, so that we may have the comfort of price stability in an atmosphere of stagnation?

He did not intend to be concerned about price stability; he was not going to have stagnation. He would not interfere so that there would be stagnation and price stability, but he was willing to have instability of prices and prosperity. He went on to say -

It is not the policy of this Government to avoid the problems of price pressures by embracing deflationary policies of stagnation. We prefer, and we have chosen, the more difficult course of saying that we will adhere to our policy of expansion; we will adhere to our objective of all-round prosperity and greater production, and we will face up to the problems that come with those policies.

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) is perfectly happy with the position. He has declared, "There is some unemployment here and there, but I have managed to transfer the unemployed ". The mixed farmer who finds that he cannot balance his accounts because of the competition from imported tinned chicken and tinned hams, can perhaps find a job on the wharfs handling the tinned chicken and ham that is imported, and everything will be all right. The employee from the motor vehicle industry will be able to go to New Zealand or somewhere else to find employment.

The attitude in Canberra is extraordinary. Like the back-bench members, the Ministers in the main have very little say in these matters. They are controlled by a few groups of bureaucrats with a few points of view. They have the opinions of the Department of Trade and the Treasury. They have the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Treasurer and the Minister for Trade, but over all this is the tranquillizing, sleepy effect of Canberra. The matters honorable members opposite know to be true and just and proper in their electorates disappear from their minds when they are in the balmy atmosphere of Canberra, sitting behind the Prime Minister, the Acting Prime Minister or whoever for the time being may be leading the Government. There is no reality and no facing the facts. The synthetic attitude of the Government is extraordinary.

Mr. Speaker,the Government has from time to time, tried to produce some ideas on these matters. The recent approach of the Acting Prime Minister is to give incentives to overcome our trade problems. What an extraordinary idea! I put it to the House that the Government is talking too much nonsense on this matter of trade. If Australian industry cannot survive when competing on even terms with manufactured goods imported from abroad, what chance have we when we try to export our goods? Yet we find that one of the proposals now made is to give tax concessions.

What are the industries in this country that have a chance of meeting overseas competition and standing on their own feet? The first is wool. Wool has its problems and if I have an opportunity, I will discuss them. The wool industry has been sold out by a government that has failed to provide a reserve price plan and to ensure that the industry is not adversely effected by such restrictive trade practices as wool pies. We are not getting the price for our wool that we should be getting. Another primary industry capable of exporting is the wheat industry. We are lucky this year that Communist China has been able to buy substantial quantities of our wheat. Then we have the question of metals. But what sort of a situation do we meet when we come to sell metals abroad? The United States of America is selling more and more of its goods to us but our sales to America are at a very low level. America has imposed an embargo and restricted the volume of metals that we can sell on that market. It has applied a tariff against our wool. But what is the Government doing to protect these industries? It is doing practically nothing!

As I say, only one or two industries have a chance of earning money on overseas markets. One of those industries is the iron and steel industry. The Acting Prime Minister said that he would introduce this tax concession scheme in an effort to boost our exports. Who will profit bv this scheme? Who can profit by it? The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited will profit. What will happen is that this company will export more iron and steel. The world is hungry for iron and steel and there will be little difficulty in obtaining a market for increased exports. But what will happen in Australia? Australia will be compelled to buy more iron and steel from abroad at higher prices and of doubtful quality. I have in mind Thomas quality steel and laminated steel. This will help to force up prices instead of reducing them.

This scheme will stimulate increases of costs because we will be importing dearer steel and will not be developing our own Australian industry. The information T have received from the Bureau of Census and Statistics shows that for the seven months ended January. 1960. we imported £9.724.000 worth of steel and we exported £19.544.000 worth. For the seven months ended January 1961. our imports were £37.648.000 and our exports dropped to £1 3.845.000. The more steel we export, the mo we will have to import at a higher cost, and our economy will suffer accordingly.

These matters should be receiving the attention of the Government. What can we do to live within our means? The Leader of the Opposition dealt with this problem. He put it on a weekly basis. What do we spend on goods from abroad? What do we export? What must we do to make up the difference? Surely in national housekeeping the time has come when the Government, speaking for the people of this country, ought to say that we cannot afford certain luxury items and will not import them, and wherever practicable we will manufacture in this country the goods that we need. A strong home economy would then be built, and that is necessary.

We have been faced with major problem. We have had a flood of imports which has been beyond our means, and many of these imports have been luxury, unnecessary and often shoddy goods. We have had a credit squeeze, and we know that the Government has failed to develop the country. The Government deserves the censure of the people for its failure in all these matters. The credit squeeze has hurt local government, primary industry and, according to " Muster ", the cattle industry. All of this leaves no doubt at all of the Government's failure.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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