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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 445

Senator MESSNER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance. I refer him to reports of debate at the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress yesterday during which speakers criticised the level of business profits and called for a tougher Prices Surveillance Authority. Has he noted the comment of Mr John Halfpenny that `the Government has to lift its game to protect people from the avarice of profit takers'? Does the Government intend to heed the call from its friends in the ACTU and strengthen the powers of the Prices Surveillance Authority, or is it satisfied that profit levels are reasonable and an important part of long term economic recovery? Will the Minister repudiate the ACTU's anti-profit campaign, which is aimed at increasing the real wages of those in jobs at the expense of creating new jobs for those 600,000 who are out of work?

Senator WALSH —I did scan the reports to which Senator Messner has referred. He asked me about profits. I can tell Senator Messner something about profits. I can tell him that the current profit level as a proportion of national income has returned to the level which it was in the 1960s, a level which was not reached at any time during the 1970s, including the five years when Mr Howard was Treasurer. The Government recognises that it is necessary for some level-one cannot be too precise about it, but an adequate level-of profits to be maintained in order to provide investment for the generation of employment. This Government has restored the traditional share of national income which went to profits in the 1950s and the 1960s. That is something which, I repeat, the previous Government conspicuously failed to do. When Mr Howard was Treasurer we heard a lot of rhetoric about profits, economic growth, inflation control and generating employment, but all we ever received was the rhetoric. The previous Government failed to deliver in all of those areas. This Government has delivered in all of them. This Government has delivered, whereas the previous Government failed to deliver.

Regarding the present situation, the Government, while recognising that an adequate level of profits is essential to maintain levels of investment that are required for employment, does not believe in profiteering. I gather, from Senator Messner's comments, that he does. Senator Messner believes in profiteering. There are opportunities for certain types of business, because of the devaluation of the Australian dollar, to take advantage of their enhanced competitive position by way of unjustifiable increases in prices. It is that anti-social practice to which the comments of the Treasurer have been directed recently.

Senator MESSNER —I ask a supplementary question. The Minister for Finance has avoided the main point of my question; that is, that the whole point made at the Congress yesterday-indeed, it was the basis of the pact that has been made between the Government and the ACTU-was to increase the real wages at the expense of the private sector. Will the Minister answer that question?

Senator WALSH —It would not surprise me if profiteering was considered to be a highly desirable activity by some members of the Sydney Stock Exchange and perhaps by the President of the Liberal Party who installed Senator Messner in his present job. He blackballed Senator Rae and put Senator Messner where he is now. That is what Mr Valder did. Honourable senators do not have to take my word for it. Senator Rae told us yesterday that he believes that is what happened and I believe that is true. In fact, I think we all know that it is true. The President of the Liberal Party, along with a number of other prominent business people, plotted to get rid of Mr Peacock and, having succeeded in doing that, then blackballed Senator Rae from the front bench and had Senator Messner installed in Senator Rae's place. Under those circumstances it is not surprising that Senator Messner is doing what he was installed to do, and that is acting as a mouthpiece for Mr Valder and some other interests in the Sydney Stock Exchange.