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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2582

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - Mr Acting Deputy President,firstly, I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to the atmosphere in which this debate has taken place. The debate began as a result of a money Bill being brought before the Senate. We know that it is legitimate for any senator on the first reading of a money Bill to raise any matter that he chooses. We know also that we are coming towards the end of this session. A great many Bills have to go through the Senate before we rise. Today we have been endeavouring to get passed by the Senate 5 very important Bills, all of which relate to very significant payments to the States involving tens of millions of dollars. One Bill alone, the Local Government Grants Bill, involves a payment of $56m to the States. Yet no indication was given of the Opposition's intention to raise the various matters which have been raised during the course of this debate. It is still customary -

Senator Marriott - There is still freedom of speech, surely.

Senator WRIEDT -There is freedom of speech, senator, but there is also such a thing as courtesy. It is normal practice to advise the Ministers concerned. It always has been in this Parliament as long as the honourable senator and I have been senators, and he has been a senator longer than I have. I think that that should have been done. If we had been looking for work to do in this place, which would be unusual, we might have decided to engage in these debates. A great deal of work needs to be done. I think it was incumbent on the Opposition at least to advise the Government that this debate would be taking place. However, I shall keep my remarks as brief as I can.

Senator Missen - You know advice was given.

Senator WRIEDT - In fairness to Senator Missen I say that he did advise me some minutes prior to his speaking, but with respect it is a good idea to advise a little earlier as the matters that were raised by the honourable senator must be dealt with by the Minister concerned- in that case the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee). The matters to which I wish to refer concern the comments that were made by Senator Townley and later by Senator Webster. There was the usual mixture of incoherent accusations of politics on both their parts, but in particular I found the remarks of Senator Townley to be of some interest to me. He attacked the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for the number of times that he has allegedly been out of Australia. He overlooked the fact that the Australian Prime Minister has established a stature in world affairs and given Australia a standing in world affairs which it has never enjoyed in the past.

Senator Marriott - Nonsense!

Senator Webster - Rubbish!

Senator WRIEDT -These interjectors of course have recently been overseas and have seen and heard the comments of various people in other countries. I have been overseas twice in the last 5 weeks, and I have talked to many representatives of other countries. All of them were of the same opinion- that Australia has never stood higher in the eyes of those countries than it does at present. This is very largely because of the efforts of the Prime Minister and of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator Townley's comments concerning small businessmen were ironic. As most of us know, he is a small businessman. He describes himself as such. He owns some chemist shops. I do not doubt, if there is a downturn in the profitability of his chemist shops, that his income from that source in conjunction with his parliamentary salary would make it difficult for him to make ends meet. We noticed that during the last election campaign he spent $15,000 to $20,000 to be re-elected. It is interesting that photostat copies of his newspaper advertisements alone total more than $3,000 for pan of the campaign. Are we to believe that the costs of his television campaign will be 4 times as much? I suggest that that is the real reason for his concern about the so-called small businessman. If he has to run another election campaign he will not be able to pay for it out of his parliamentary salary so he must look to his income from his business undertakings. I think everybody ought to bear that in mind.

Senator Webster - Do you get yours from the margarine industry?

Senator WRIEDT -We must consider that point in respect of politicians such as Senator

Webster, who is interjecting, and the incomes he receives in addition to his parliamentary salary. He nods his head in agreement. I am glad to see that. He is also one of those people who will try to be re-elected to this place so that he can earn a second income. These are the people who have the temerity to criticise people such as Mr Whitiam for his so-called VIP flights and the fact that the cost is met by the taxpayer. I would not believe any Australian would accept that anyone has the right to adopt the attitude that was adopted by Senator Townley and which was supported by Senator Webster.

Senator Townleysaid that the Government wishes to control everything centrally. I can remember when we had the prices and incomes referendum some time ago this Government recognised the need for some sanity and control over these 2 important facets of the economy. The Opposition and Senator Townley opposed the prices and incomes referendum. They said that this power should stay with the States. The real reason that they opposed it was that they knew that they were denying the Government a most effective and essential weapon to resist increases in inflation in this country. They realised that cost inflation is an essential part of the economy at present. This was one of the most effective weapons that would be available to the Government. The surest way to make it all the more difficult for the Government was to ensure that the referendum was defeated, simply because the States are not able to exercise these powers in an overall sense.

We are accustomed to Senator Webster's ravings about the rural sector. I will come to that shortly. We are told that the economy is in a state of near disaster. It was only three or four weeks ago that he predicted that the greatest depression in the history of the country was about to befall us. I am quite sure that he would be glad if that happened, irrespective of the consequences, because from that he would be able to solicit a few votes in his home State of Victoria. If we look at the record we find that one of the most important barometers of economic demand in any industrialised country is the level of demand for the motor vehicle. We see that in September, only 2 months ago, motor vehicle registrations were running at record levels. In the housing sector we find that the savings banks are now strongly expanding their lending, and their loan approvals in the December quarter could be 50 per cent higher than they were in the September quarter. Incomes have risen strongly and are likely to continue to do so. The average minimum weekly wage for adult males increased by 27 per cent for the 12 months to the end of August whereas the growth rate of wage rates for females was 43 per cent for the same period.

Senator Webster - Why are men being put out of work? Tell us why we have such high unemployment. It is total incompetence.

Senator WRIEDT -Senator Webster, who is again interjecting, does not understand the relationship between that figure and the consumer price index and also, of course, the fact that the people who are today earning those increased incomes are better off in real terms than they were 12 months ago. That is a difficult thing for Senator Webster to understand but nevertheless, as Senator Wheeldon commented today, the reading of an elementary book on economics would help Senator Webster to understand.

Industrial production is up in most items from what it was last year. The output of most of our major minerals remains at very high levels. Even in the case of prices, which we all realise must be contained, the increase in the last quarter was 2.7 per cent. That is more than the Government would like it to have been, but it was the smallest increase since the December quarter of 1972. So it is quite clear that the Government's measures, which are designed to arrest the very high demand, are taking effect. We also find that the increase in the wholesale prices of building materials in August, while still substantial, was the smallest monthly increase since March. So far as our monetary conditions are concerned, the Government has taken a whole series of measures to increase the liquidity in the community and certain signs are already emerging which suggest that these measures are also having their effect. The savings banks have stepped up substantially their rate of lending for housing. The money supply in September, after it had decreased in July and August, has increased. There was a further improvement in bank liquidity in that same period, and our balance of payment position shows that we have no less than $3.3 billion in reserves at the present time. Exports last month reached a record level of $7 15m.

All of these things add up to the general picture of an economy which is basically healthy but which has the problem, like the economies of all other advanced countries, of increasing inflation and increasing unemployment. As a major trading nation, Australia is caught in exactly the same position as are so many of the other advanced countries. I have heard it said in recent months that other countries are facing the same problems. Japan, Western Europe, the United

States and Canada are all worried about their inflation rate, which is approximately the same in those countries as it is in Australia. The rate of inflation is something which all countries are caught up in at the present time, but the figures which I have just quoted indicate that, with the measures being taken by the Government, we are slowly but surely getting ahead.

Senator Webstercame forward with his usual disjointed diatribe of nonsense about the Government's rural policies. It is not for me to take the time of the Senate unduly on this matter, but I do wish to deal with one single industry, our biggest rural industry, namely, wool. Before this Government came into office the wool industry in this country had for many years sought assistance from the Liberal and Country Parties to ensure the stability of the Australian wool industry. Its claims always fell on deaf ears.

Senator Webster - That is a lie. That is false.

Senator WRIEDT -I am glad the honourable senator withdrew that remark voluntarily, otherwise he would have had to do it, with respect -

The PRESIDENT - I did not hear the interjection.

Senator WRIEDT - It is always Senator Webster's way. One can sit and listen to his speeches in silence but he can never take it when someone is giving it to him. In 1970-71, when the Australian wool industry was on the point of collapse, the Liberal-Country Party Government would do nothing to help it and Australian wool was shipped overseas at give away prices. Finally that Government decided that it would institute a reserve price scheme, which did not solve the problem, of course. Then when a similar situation arose under this Government it adopted a completely different approach. It recognised the vital importance to the Australian economy of a healthy wool industry and it stepped in and provided $150m to shore up that industry in its time of very great difficulty. The Government is not giving that money to the wool industry- we do not suggest that we are- but the Government is making available what is critically important money to the industry at a time when it needs it. Even today the Government has made an appropriation of an additional $200m; so in fact it is making available a total of $350m to ensure the stability of the wool industry. Even the world wool trade agrees that what the Australian Government has done is the greatest thing that has ever been done for this industry. It is an industry that earns this country $ 1,000m a year in export earnings. How vital it is that we maintain it as a stable and consistent earner of Australia's foreign exchange.

Because of the tremendous amount of work that the Senate has on the notice paper I do not want to delay honourable senators any longer. I wish only to reiterate the point that I made earlier, that debates on motions for the first reading are obviously now going to be used by the Opposition as a propaganda exercise- no more than that. The Opposition's propaganda is obviously more important to it than the legislation that this Government is endeavouring to get through in order to enable payments to be made to the States for vital State works. This is a tactic which one would think, in the circumstances, the Opposition would be prepared to forgo. In respect of the remarks made by Senator Durack on minerals, as the Minister in this place responsible for Mr Connor's portfolio I shall ensure that the honourable senator's remarks are conveyed to Mr Connor.

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