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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1448

Mr WEBB (Stirling) - I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). It is interesting to look at the Government back bench and see so many distinguished - or should I say extinguished - former Ministers, including a former Prime Minister, who have been dismissed from office. It is shocking to think that the former Prime Minister is there on the back bench because of the machinations of Sir Frank Packer, the Press baron, who made it clear to the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) that he should dismiss him from the position of Minister for Defence. He offended the Establishment and had to go. He would not bend the knee to the Packer Press. He wanted a more humane approach to the needy in the community. He would not allow his Minis ters to accept shares in Comalco Ltd. He wanted to restrict the overseas ownership of Australia's assets. The High Court decision on the restrictive trade practices legislation shows how he laid the foundations to control and regulate big business. In other words, he wanted to do it his way.

This departure from Liberal-Country Party policy offended the Establishment. They wanted it done their way. With the dismissal of the Prime Minister others who supported him had to be disposed of. So we find the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury), the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes) and others on the back bench. The Prime Minister has been shuffling the pack until there are very few spots left on the cards. I ask him: What is the use of shuffling the cards when a new deck is needed? On this side of the House we have a new deck, a deck that will give the people a fair deal. It cannot be said that they have had a fair deal under this Government.

It is estimated that the Budget will add $1.57 weekly to the average man's cost of living. Income tax, postage, telephone calls, television and radio licences will all be increased. Chemists' fees for pharmaceutical benefits prescriptions will be doubled as a result of a Bill introduced in this Parliament today. All of these things will go up as a result of the Budget. The income tax levy will be doubled and will now be 5 per cent. This means that a man earning $80 a week will pay another $18.50 a year in income tax, It will now cost 7c to post a letter, which is an increase of 17 per cent. Telephone calls will jump to 4. 5c, an increase of 19 per cent. Telephone connection fees will rise to $50 and the rental will go up to $55, which is a rental of over $1 a week. Cigarettes will cost from about 4c more for a packet of 20. The price of petrol will rise by 2c a gallon. As I have mentioned, chemists' prescription fees will go up from 50c to $1 .

Whatever is given in increases in pensions and child endowment will be more than swallowed up in increased costs. The Budget is designed to reduce the take home pay of the ordinary people. Not only will it reduce the amount they take home but also, by increased costs, it will reduce the purchasing power of the people. It has been suggested that this Budget could tip the economy into a recession. The economic indicators clearly show that this is so. There is no doubt that a lot of people, who may not realise it now, are going to suffer. Unemployment is on the increase. The Government has set out to create a higher percentage of unemployment. It wants to see people lined up outside the factory gates looking for jobs. That is part of the Government's policy of disciplining the workers, lt does not make the Opposition happy to see unemployment, as the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) suggested. It makes us very unhappy to think that this pool of unemployment is being created deliberately.

The Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in his Budget Speech stated that it had been decided to limit the growth in the numbers employed full time under the Public Service Act. That number also was severely cut back earlier in the economy campaign. This policy will gravely affect the job opportunities of young people leaving school. The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions has pointed out that the present unemployment figure could rise to 100,000 as a result of the Budget. The Prime Minister himself agreed that this could be so, and he suggested the figure of 100,000. The Budget has been framed with the objective in mind of building up a pool of unemployment. Later estimates are causing greater concern. The Australian Financial Review' of 10th September suggested that the number of unemployed could rise to 150,000. A more conservative estimate is 120,000.

The August review of the employment situation shows that, seasonally adjusted, 75,000 people were out of work - an increase of 6.6 per cent over the previous month - while registered job vacancies have fallen by 4.2 per cent to 34,673. In other words, there are more than 2 people available for every job vacancy .The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and the Leader of the Opposition by way of questions have pointed out that the number of man hours lost through unemployment over the last few months is greater in terms of production than the man hours lost through strikes. The Prime Minister now regrets supporting the suggestion that unemployment could rise to 100,000 in January next. He accuses people of indulging in a whispering cam paign and says that they want to create alarm and despondency. What he forgets is that the people who support him politically are issuing those warnings. Mr Blyton, the President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, when referring to the August figure of 75,000 unemployed, stated:

These figures are a further indication that the level of economic activity is continuing to ease.

He called upon the Government to modify policies aimed at dampening demand. The Federal President of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures said:

It seems that now is the right time for the Government to inject seme renewed life into the economy.

This is the first Budget that I can remember in which the obvious weaknesses have been revealed before the Budget has actually been passed by the Parliament. The Prime Minister now has doubts about it himself and concedes that there is some danger of a recession in the economy early next year and has stated that action will be taken if this proves to be so. The Leader of the Opposition has called upon him to take action now, not to wait until it is too late. The Prime Minister prefers to wait and see. He reminds me of St Anthony the Hermit who refused to do right because the devil told him to do so. He ignores advice similar in nature given to him from all quarters including Mr Hawke of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Blyton, president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia, the president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia and rural interests, all of whom have warned him of the dangerous consequences of deflating the economy. They have also warned him how much harder it is to get things running again once this deflated economy reaches its depth. He said during question time today that statesmanship was required. Statesmanship is required but the nation is not getting it from the Prime Minister or his Government. His policies spell economic disaster.

Without doubt this Budget will increase inflation. Additional taxes and charges must increase prices. One economist has suggested that the overall rate of inflation will be about 7 per cent. This being the case, how can this Government in all conscience call upon the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to clamp down on wage increases. The seeds have been sown in this Budget. The Treasurer said in his Budget Speech:

I might mention, in this budget context, that the Government is considering what might be done by way of strengthening the arbitration system and, in particular, bringing more to the forefront the economic consequences of decisions which are taken within thai system. When these studies have been completed we will consider whether further measures should be taken to cope with the problem of excessive cost and price increases.

The Government has told the Arbitration Commission before not to increase wages. lt did so in I960 before the big credit squeeze and honourable members will recall the consequences. Since Parliament resumed for the current sittings honourable members on the other side of this House have been making blatant attacks upon the workers of this country. In the Budget Speech threats were made to interfere with the arbitration system. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is to be amended to force the court to comply with the policy of this Government. What could not be achieved by threats is to be achieved by amending the Act. About 12 months ago we witnessed the spectacle of Ministers of the Crown, headed by the Prime Minister, blatantly using their positions to influence the Arbitration Commission in the interests of employers. The then Prime Minister, speaking as guest of honour at the annual dinner of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales and in the presence of the President of the Arbitration Commission, tried to influence the decision of the Commission in the oil industry case.

This is not something new. Incidents of this nature have been happening for some years. The former Treasurer, now the Prime Minister, at the annual dinner of the Metal Trades Employers' Association, used the occasion to dictate to the President of the Commission, who was also a guest, what the attitude of the Commission should be in regard to the applications of the unions for increased wages. I refer to the 1967 work value judgment. So blatant were these attempts to influence the Commission that the President has stated that outside attempts to influence it were foolish, stupid and futile; they served only to distract the Commission from the job in hand.

This Government wants the Arbitration Commission to step into the economic field and take action to remove the responsibility from the Government. This Government has failed to take action to control prices; it has allowed inflation to run riot. It ignored the report of the Vernon Committee on the economy. It has failed to act on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review, published in 1959, which advocated a widening of the economic powers of the Commonwealth. The Government has failed miserably to live up to its responsibilities as regards the economy. It wants to side-step them still further by forcing the Commission to take the responsibility of managing the economy. Who is governing Australia? It is certainly not this Government. Sir Frank Packer is having a large say. The other 2 pressure groups controlling this Government are the Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Country Party. The Democratic Labor Party stopped the former Prime Minister from holding a House of Representatives election in 1968 when he had everyone keyed up for it, including his own party. In many other ways too numerous to mention the DLP has been dictating to the Government.

The Australian national opinion poll reveals that about 60 per cent of the people believe they will be worse off as a result of this Budget. It is loaded against city people in favour of country interests and mainly in favour of the rural aristocracy. One has only to look at the $60m allocated for assistance to the wool industry to prove this and to analyse how the big rural aristocracy is favoured rather than the little people. The Australian Country Party has influence out of all proportion to its voting strength. I want to quote an article from the March 1971 issue of 'Rydge's' although it is not particularly related to the matters I am referring to and which are contained in this Budget. It relates to the power of the Country Party under the heading 'Our Strangled Cities'. It reads:

Although Australians prefer city life and although the cities have become the principal reservoir of our mature talents and skills, the billycan and bowyang tradition continues to dominate our cultural image and political life.

Why should this be so? Politically, the city dweller has become disadvantaged: his vote at all levels of Government is worth less than his country cousin's and this is reflected in the low ranking urban problems appear to have in the list of national priorities.

The bush tail

The shabbiness of many, of our urban areas is part of the price the community is paying for a coalition government in which the bush tail wags the city dog on important developmental issues. Politically this price may be well worth paying but it is building a substantial debit account of neglect which is undermining the quality of life in the cities.

Mr Turnbull - Terrible.

Mr WEBB - The honourable member might consider it to be terrible but 1 have not heard from anybody in his Party who is prepared to answer this accusation. 1 draw the attention of honourable members to this article to show how the Country Party tail is wagging the Liberal Party dog. Coming back to this Budget, all the little people will be hit by this Budget. The poor will get poorer and the wealthy will get richer. That is the unfortunate situation brought about by this Budget. The increase in the concessional allowance for education expenses from $300 to $400 is a concession to the wealthy. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, a man on $3,000 a year will have to spend $4 to get a $1 reduction in his tax whereas a man on $30,000 a year will get a tax reduction of $2 for every $3 he spends on educating his children. At one time a man's wage would keep his family in reasonable comfort. Now a family cannot exist on the minimum wage of about $46.30 a week. In order to keep up any sort of standard he has to have 2 jobs, work excessive overtime and his wife has to go out to work. The paltry increase to pensioners does not keep up with the rapid increase in the cost of living.

I would like to draw attention to some of these factors. The single pension rate is increased to $17.25 which is 19.49 per cent of average weekly earnings of $88.50. The married couple pension rate has been increased by $1 each to $15.25 each which is 17.23 per cent of average weekly earnings. In 1949 all pensioners were on the same standard pension and at that time there was a Labor government in power. The 1949 pension represented 26.9 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Government is always happy to quote average weekly earnings to show how workers wages have advanced and to illustrate how affluent we are. Surely pensioners are entitled to enjoy their share of our so called affluence. It is noticeable that the amount of allowable income is the same - $10 for a single pensioner and $17 for a pensioner couple.

In 1954 the amount of allowable income - that is, the amount a pensioner could earn without affecting his pension - was the same amount as the pension rate at that time. If that position applied today pensioners would be allowed to have an income equivalent to the amount of the pension without affecting the amount of pension. The allowable income has dropped from 100 per cent in the case of a single pensioner to 57.9 per cent and in the case of a married pensioner couple it has dropped to 55.7 per cent. The allowable income has in fact been almost halved. I could go on and quote other instances of how pensioners have suffered under this Government. This Government stands condemned for its treatment of pensioners. On 15th March, when he gave the pensioners a miserable increase of 50c a week, the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) said:

We will follow this immediate increase in pension rates with a fundamental review of social services and related pensions and also of methods of adjusting such benefits. This review, which has already been commenced, will be under consideration in the near future with the object of bringing emerging decisions into effect for the year 1971-72.

In the Opposition's amendment, attention has been drawn to this. The amendment proposes that the House condemns the Budget because it breaks the Prime Minister's pledge to the Parliament on taking office to bring into effect in 1971-72 a fundamental review of social services and also methods of adjusting them. The Budget contains no proposals to plan the finances and functions of the Commonwealth, the States and local government. It produces no programme for high national objectives of social welfare, economic strength and national security. All these things that he promised to do at that time were idle promises, no sooner made than broken. This is not unusual. What has happened to the proposed national superannuation scheme? What about the abolition of the means test? These are all promises of the past that have never come to fruition.

This Government is on its way out. The people are sick of the cards being continually shuffled when what is required is a new pack. The Budget was designed for an election at the end of this year and the Government hoped that its bad effects would not be revealed until after the election. This plan has come unstuck not only because of what happened in the economic sphere but also because of the infighting that has occurred in the Party itself and which has made the Prime Minister punch drunk. The skies are black with the chickens coming home to roost and whenever the next election takes place, sooner or later, this Government will get it where the chicken got the axe.

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