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Thursday, 9 December 1976
Page: 3603

Mr SHORT (Ballaarat) -The matter of public importance which is the subject of this debate is yet another in a series of attempts by the Opposition in recent weeks deliberately to undermine Australia's economic recovery and to destroy the confidence of the Australian people which has been rebuilt during 1 976 following the near death-blow that it suffered during the Whitlam Government's period of office. The hypocrisy of the Opposition in raising this matter today is shown very clearly by the fact that neither the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) the shadow Treasurer, nor the man who primes his bullets, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), are participating in the debate.

It is 12 months this weekend since the people of Australia gave the Fraser Government the largest vote of support that any government in Australia's history has ever received. In this vote of support the Australian people made it crystal clear to the Labor Party that they wanted no further truck with a government that acted in a way in which the Whitlam Government acted during its disastrous period in office. In those 3 years the Australian economy reeled from one blow after another to its basic fibre seemingly almost as a result of a deliberate policy of economic wantonness by the forces of socialism, forces that not only ruined the economy but also threatened the very way of life of millions of Australians.

The Opposition is accusing the Fraser Government of responsibility for a fall in living standards. Never have I heard such a hypocritical or preposterous accusation. How can the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and his emasculated backbench claim any vestige of credibility when they make such wild assertions without one whit of evidence to support them.

Mr Baillieu - They cannot.

Mr SHORT -The fact is that they cannot, as my friend says. The Australian people know this as we on this side of the House and I suspect the intellectually more honest members opposite do. Let us look at some of the facts. Under the last 2 years of Labor's period of office the total level of non-farm output in Australia actually fell; in other words there was a negative rate of growth.

This situation would have been considered unthinkable before the Labor Party took office. This situation had not previously occurred in the post-war period. At the same time the farm sector fell into a state of collapse and the standard of living of farmers declined massively in both money and real terms. The level of unemployment in this country rose by no less than threefold during the same period. This was precipitated by the highest inflation rate that this country has ever known on a sustained basis- an inflation rate which eroded the fixed assets of business and the lifetime savings of millions of Australians and made impossible of lasting attainment virtually all the social goals, many of them desirable, which Labor had set itself on coming to office in 1 972.

It is simply not sustainable to argue as our opponents do that the calamity which befell Australia during Labor's term of office was a result of the general world economic climate. Certainly, economic conditions abroad played some part; we on this side of the House have never denied that. But the overwhelming reasons for the catastrophic situation which developed under Labor were Labor's own bungling and inept management of the economy. It was under Labor that the standard of living in this country fell. It was because of Labor's action that it fell. One only has to ask the small person in the community what happened to his living standard in 1974-75. One only has to ask the pensioners, superannuitants and others on low fixed incomes who earlier this year completed their tax returns just what they think of the monstrous Hayden rebate scheme. This scheme has caused countless thousands of low income recipients to pay exorbitant amounts of income tax as compared with what they were paying previously. One should ask also about the staggering rise in the cost of living in 1974-75 and what that did to their attempts to lead satisfying lives. One should ask the small businessman, the farmer, and the young married couple saving to buy their first home what happened to their standard of living under Labor. Perhaps most telling of all one should ask the additional 250 000 persons- onequarter of a million- young and old who became unemployed under Labor just what happened to their standards of living m 1974-75. They will say, in one simple sentence, that their standards of living declined dramatically under the Whitlam Government.

Let us now have a look at the situation of the past 12 months. First and foremost, inflation has eased even though it still has a long way to go before it is down to an acceptable level. But the trend is in the right direction. What we as a nation must do is to ensure that this trend is maintained. If we do not inflation will destroy us. There is a responsibility on each and every one of us to ensure that this does not happen. This responsibility is shared by governments, employers, employees- in fact, by all Australians. Secondly, while inflation has eased the total level of output has risen. The rate of recovery is slow, but recovery there is. It is a recovery which is sustainable. It is the result of sound and consistent policies of economic management by the Fraser Government.

It has been claimed by our opponents that the recent devaluation marks a reversal of the Government's economic strategy. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has demonstrated quite unequivocally that this is not so, as has the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). Of .course devaluation has an initial unfavourable cost and price impact, but it is simplistic in the extreme to infer from this that devaluation is therefore inconsistent with an anti-inflationary policy. Let it not be forgotten that it was the destruction of our international competitive position as a result of Labor's economic mismanagement that led to the devaluation. Devaluation should bring significant anti-inflationary benefits. In particular by stimulating domestic production and encouraging exports devaluation will lead to greater throughput and therefore to a lowering of unit fixed costs. By giving a major boost of confidence to primary producers, the rnining industry and the manufacturing sector- their confidence was shaken to the core by the Whitlam Governmentthe devaluation also should help psychologically a further recovery in the economy.

Nevertheless the Government will need to take all reasonable steps in its power to make sure that the potential benefits are not eroded by any resurgence of inflation. The Government's review of tariffs will be an important element in this endeavour. So also will be the watchdog role of the Prices Justification Tribunal. Monetary and fiscal policy also will need to be tightly controlled. Further the attitude of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will be of critical importance. Here I make a plea to employers, employees and the Opposition to co-operate with the Government in the tasks ahead. If we do not work together as a nation we will hang together. Far from standards of living having fallen under the Fraser Government the truth is that those standards have increased. In any judgment on a matter such as this, one must look much further than simply at movements in wages, although even wage rates have continued to rise. One must take into account many other items which go into the equation.

The Fraser Government this year has introduced many progressive and reforming measures which have contributed to rising living standards. My friend, the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards), mentioned those. There are many other measures which have been taken by the Government but time will not permit me to elaborate on them all. Many of them are highly desirable reforming and progressive measures which the Labor Government was not prepared to undertake. But when they are all added up and taken into account with the gradual recovery of the economy, there can be no doubt that lIving standards have risen in the past year. The Opposition- a combination of yesterday's men and tomorrow's nobodies- has once again in this debate revealed to the House and to the people of Australia that it is a negative Opposition, an Opposition without one constructive idea in the field of economic management and an Opposition which, if it ever crept back into power, as surely as day follows night would plunge this country back into economic darknessa darkness from which in the past 12 months we have slowly but steadily emerged.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order The discussion has now concluded.

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