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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
Page: 788

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - The Treasurer

The Australian Labor Party inherited an economy in good shape, moving ahead towards full employment and with the rate of inflation in the last quarter of 1972 down to a level which was getting very close to manageable. Now we have enormous increases in public expenditure and an unacceptable inflation rate. Labor will discover that Australians after 23 years of growth and progress under the Liberal Party-Country Party coalition, with real improvement in living standards, will not tolerate a government which clearly demonstrates its inability to manage effectively the financial affairs of the nation.

Of course, not all the decisions are bad. Some should and will be supported, but the Budget's inflationary impact will create immense problems and much hardship to many sections of the community, particularly to those groups which Labor pretends the Budget is designed to assist. The Government will of course delay facing up to the inevitable day of reckoning as long as it can - certainly, I believe, until after the Senate election - but Australians should realise that bruised though they are by this Budget, the worst is yet to come. The weekend decision on currency revaluation and interest rates indicates this only too clearly. The Government will be forced to take further corrective action next year which will only further damage the nation's confidence and growth. We are dealing with an expenditure of SI 2, 168m, an increase of 19 per cent over last year. This is a dangerously high increase, particularly in the context of today's economy and a decision which will ensure a rate of inflation higher than 10 per cent. Australia cannot afford a Treasurer who for short term political advantage delivers an expansionary and inflationary Budget at a time when the state of the economy clearly calls for different decisions and emphases. But first of all, let me give credit where it is due. The increased allocation for cultural activities including the National Library, the National Gallery and collection, and the Australian Council of Arts is desirable.

In recreation, the decision to provide community and school centres in co-operation with State governments, the increased vote to the National Fitness Council and the allocation of funds for national park development is equally desirable. In welfare, I commend decisions on Aboriginal advancement, road safety, the increased subsidy to senior citizens centres and Meals on Wheels organisation and assistance to handicapped children. The total expenditure on these measures is not large but regrettably, they are reduced to lesser importance when the duplicity and deception in vital areas is unmasked.

In education, Labor has dishonoured preelection and election promises. Its attempt to claim an increase of more than 90 per cent in education expenditure is phoney. Whilst taking over responsibility for tertiary education, tax reimbursements to the States were adjusted to allow for this - close on $200m. The credibility of the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) has been severely damaged by the unjust treatment handed out to independent schools. The categorisation of schools on unacceptable grounds after superficial inquiry indicates the Government's preparedness to accept discriminatory advice. Labor has created justifiable anger in the Australian electorate because of its basic injustice in this matter to parents, children and schools. I sincerely hope that the Minister does not hesitate to review some of the decisions arrived at, which are so obviously unfair.

In health, despite the remarks of the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) Labor continues to state without either convincing argument or proof that the present health scheme is inequitable and inefficient. Whilst the present scheme has some imperfections which will require attention, this Government is obsessed with socialist and centralist policies, and against growing public concern it allocates in the Budget funds to commence the implementation of its national health scheme. The Government and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in this vital area, continue to attempt to force on Australians a scheme which will result in a poorer medical service and at the same time restrict - I use the word restrict deliberately - the freedom of choice of doctor and hospital. Labor would serve the interests of the nation if it looked at the question of dental care and made some positive contribution to what is required in this nation.

There are approximately one million Australians who are entitled to pension payments. Many of these people depend substantially or solely on these payments. Surely they are entitled to enjoy an improved standard of living and to be safeguarded from policies which erode their personal savings. Our senior citizens have been sold short in this Budget. Labor's announced policy is to increase pensions twice a year until they reach 25 per co] of average weekly earnings. The Budget lifts basic pension rates by $1.50 and at the same time unleashes the forces of inflation which will negate the purchasing power of the pension increase and decrease the value of savings.

This section of our community is unfairly disadvantaged, not just those on old age and other pensions but everyone on superannuation and fixed incomes who are not in a position to take any steps to protect themselves and their families from the ravages of inflation. One clear result of this Budget is that every Australian, old or young, wealthy or poor, will find that within a year each $100 of savings will be worth no more than $90, and probably closer to $80.

In the field of housing, Labor is guilty of duplicity. The Budget gives effect to a scheme for deductibility of mortgage interest. But with sleight of hand, after no indication of this action in the course of the election campaign, the Labor Party is to end the valuable homes savings grants scheme, which has been of great assistance to young married couples in helping to provide a deposit on the purchase of a home. The deposit is surely needed before any advantage can be taken of interest deductibility. Sunday's monetary policy decision will now force up interest rates and further disadvantage young Australians. Sunday's decision was an attack upon home ownership in this country. In addition, the housing industry with all its national significance and importance is already reflecting the problems of costs and shortages which will occur with increasing ferocity from Labor's irresponsibility in economic management.

We heard a lot about cities during the election campaign, but the proposals in the Budget were not a very inspiring first effort to tackle some of the real problems of urban life. The national backlog in sewerage - despite the comment of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) - is given limited attention only. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development comes into the House and makes comments, almost bordering on insult about the Gold Coast and sewerage. What I hope the Minister will do is make some contribution to solving the problems of the second fastest growing city in this nation. Making cryptic and insulting remarks does not require much ability.

A more enterprising approach to the tourist industry would have repaid the Government. Obviously the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) - and I feel a little sorry for him - is finding it difficult to convince his socialist colleagues that the private enterprise tourist industry properly encouraged can contribute handsomely to the national economy. The relatively small allocation to the industry for promotion purposes is not good enough. A bolder imaginative approach, including depreciation allowances on tourist income producing buildings and a rethinking of some civil aviation and transport policies would have not only assisted the industry but repaid the national purse.

There are many other examples in the Budget of discriminatory and deceptive attitudes. But, Mr Deputy Speaker, the overriding problem is we have government expenditure up by 19 per cent.| Increased costs include those of the Public Service new departments, commissions and committees to carry out Labor's socialist policies. They include public expenditure on projects like the pipeline authority - over $100m of taxpayers' money - which could have been financed by private enterprise. To finance this type of exercise and to help towards balancing the books, we have action on one hand to disadvantage private enterprise, which really generates the nation's wealth, to discriminate particularly against the primary producer and the mining industry and to downscale the defence capacity and, on the other hand, to inflame inflation further by increasing indirect taxes.

For the rural producer, bounties on cheese and butter are being phased out, investment allowances discontinued and telephone charges increased. In addition, other undesirable measures have been taken against the wine and fruit growing industries and, of course, the mining industry, which has contributed so much to the nation's growth in recent years, as well as being singled out for continuous and vicious attacks by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor).

Whilst no one believes there is an external threat to Australia at the present time, Labor has a responsibility to maintain adequate defence capacity. Surely we are realistic enough to accept that it is essential to back up foreign policy. The nation's security is the prime responsibility of government. Labor has deliberately downscaled our defence capacity particularly in the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force in order to assist it to pay for its socialist policies.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - Before the suspension of the sitting I had given the House some detail of Labor's duplicity in key policy areas particularly in housing, education and health, and its irresponsibility in increasing Government expenditure this year by 19 per cent and thereby unleashing the forces of inflation, disadvantaging many sections of the community and attacking private enterprise, particularly the primary producer and the mining industry. But of course that was not sufficient in itself. The Government had to look at taxation. We now have a Labor government which because of inflation will reap an increase of over 25 per cent in personal taxation. In addition it deals severely with private companies - and they have made a very real contribution to the growth of Australia - and increases indirect taxation on fuel, tobacco and spirits. The increased tax on fuel is a particularly unjustifiable decision in the context of today's economic conditions.

In the final analysis we have a Labor government which accepts inflation at an annual rate above 10 per cent - and there are very good reasons to expect it to be considerably higher than 10 per cent. The Budget document itself accepts that wages will increase by 13 per cent and productivity only between 2i per cent and 3 per cent. The Liberal Party rejects this attitude and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) stated very clearly the unanimous approach of the Liberal Party throughout Australia to combat this menace. What is needed is a capacity to identify all the components operating within the economy and a determination - a genuine determination - to take wide-ranging appropriate action to counter inflationary pressures on prices, incomes, interest rates, working hours, industrial relations and Government expenditure, together with other monetary and fiscal policies. We support a prices-incomes policy, after consultation and discussion with all the responsible elements in the Australian community. We realise that this is not a permanent solution but it would serve a useful purpose in the short term and it is becoming increasingly obvious that some decisive, effective action needs to be taken.

Labor's superficial approach on prices and its irresponsible attitude on wages are unacceptable. We believe that the common sense of Australians will accept an attitude that productivity must be taken into account when wage demands are considered. Labor, by its support of excessive wage demands in some cases, by its tolerance and regrettably at times by its encouragement of industrial unrest, by its posturing on prices and with its enormous increases in Government expenditure has set in train inflationary pressures which will create hardships, inequities and injustices in every section of the community. The Treasurer speaks of needed reforms and of clearing the deck so that these reforms may be implemented. But because of the Budget's excesses and lack of responsibility we are not debating what could be claimed in any way to be a document of reform. Rather, it is a regressive socialist approach to the management of the financial affairs of a nation which holds such promise under different direction of harnessing individual initiative and enterprise and controlling the growth of bureauracy.

The Labor Party now has in its hands the justification to dissolve both Houses of the Parliament. But there will not be an early double dissolution. The Labor Party knows that Australians will not tolerate a government which tries to enact legisaltion to allow it to draw electoral boundaries in its own favour. The Labor Party knows that Aus tralians will reject a government which tries to enact legisaltion which gives to trade unionists privileges not enjoyed by the community at large. We now have this Budget, a deceptive document containing a number of deplorable and discriminatory decisions. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) will not seek an early double dissolution. The Budget does not deserve the support of or acceptance by the Australian community and as this debate continues more and more Australians are becoming aware of this.

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