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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1355

Senator VIGOR(6.00) —The striking thing about the latest annual report of the Economic Planning Advisory Council is its very blandness. Compared with the exchanges in the Senate Estimates Committee A, the report is quite unilluminating, particularly about the directions in which EPAC is heading. A variety of points have been raised publicly about the operation of EPAC over the past year. For instance, last December Colin Menzies of the Australian Council of Social Service and a member of EPAC was highly critical of the way EPAC was doing its job. He wanted EPAC to improve its performance in areas such as tax reform, unemployment and poverty. There was a need for radical changes if the economy was not to fall into malaise.

This brings me to the purpose for which EPAC was set up in the wake of the National Economic Summit Conference back in 1983. Firstly, it was to provide a broadly based source and channel of information on economic matters to assist the Commonwealth Government in making decisions relating to economic policy and to assist State governments, local government and other bodies and even individuals in making decisions that are related to the economic policy of the Commonwealth Government. Next, it was to provide a forum for the participation of the community in the development and formulation of the economic policy of the Commonwealth Government. Thirdly, it was to facilitate the development and consideration by the Commonwealth Government of medium and longer term economic assessments and policy requirements. All three aims, if taken up in the national interest rather than for the sake of mobilising support for what the Government wanted to do, are very laudable.

Structural matters and the overall framework in which trade policy, research and development policy, industry revitalisation policy and even transport policy are set are of critical importance to the nation. We need tackling these matters skilled people who do not have the narrow confines of a departmental position or a vested interest to protect. If the Australian people see only fiddling at the periphery in economic matters, and draw the conclusion that the tougher long term questions are not being handled at all by the Government, they cannot be blamed for refusing to make sacrifices for the good of the whole nation.

I found it interesting that a task force on long term economic growth has been established to generate additional information for the Government on and to investigate, amongst other things, the performance of various sectors of Australian industry, Australia's international trading relationships and the impact of changes in them on the community, and the importance of technological change to the Australian economy. All of these things are essential if we are to get out of the economic morass in which are currently stuck. When that project is disbanded later this year, I hope that some of its work will be taken up on a continuing basis through the Economic Planning Advisory Council.

Because high qualifications have been required of staff it has taken a while to build up EPAC's full time professional capacity. The Director, Mr Miller, has stated that the farming out of consultancies to the academic sector has been far less successful than getting the academics to work in EPAC's office, where they become acutely aware of the requirement that the research be applicable needs and of the direction of program policy. Mr Miller has also indicated that the EPAC office is approaching the final stages of developing its model for the Australian economy. Senate Estimates Committee A was told that this should enable a good look to be taken at what effect faster or slower rates of wind-back in the public sector borrowing requirements might have on the economy: that is indeed a very important matter for the next three to five years.

In August we had the Australian Financial Review saying that the `release of an emasculated version of the suppressed EPAC paper on Medium to Longer Term Trends Affecting Australia's Economic Growth shows, without doubt, that EPAC has been stillborn'. I hope that that assessment turns out to be incorrect and that we can get EPAC fully and openly involved in examining and solving our serious long-term economic problems.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.