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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1414

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(3.31) —The Economic Planning Advisory Council was born with great hopes and expectations out of the National Economic Summit. Unfortunately, in this, its second annual report, it has demonstrated that those hopes have effectively been downgraded, mainly as a result of pressure brought by the Australian Council of Trade Unions on the Government to prevent it taking a view of short term economic trends. I quote from a document titled `Structure and role of the Economic Planning Advisory Council':

EPAC is seen by the Government as the main vehicle through which it will continue, on an ongoing basis, the process of co-operation and consultation begun with the National Economic Summit.

It went on:

. . . the Council would be the major forum for discussions between Government and community representatives on prospective economic conditions and appropriate economic policies. In particular the Council would discuss the Government's proposed strategy on growth, inflation and unemployment, and provide its views as to how natural objectives in these areas could best be achieved. It would also have an important role to play in the development of incomes policy.

The reality is that when EPAC continued the process of economic examination that began at the Economic Summit by way of projections of what was likely to happen in the economy given certain conditions, those projections were effectively blocked by the ACTU, and the Government forced EPAC-an alleged independent body-to stop preparing them. I want to remind the Senate of this because I believe it was a scandalous intervention by the Government into this so-called independent body. There is no doubt that these short term projections were blocked because they were embarrassing to the Government. They exposed how muddle-headed and wrong the Government's economic policies in these respects were. All we got one way or another after these projections were released was a series of lectures from the Treasurer (Mr Keating) and from the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) about how a projection was not a forecast and how in fact these projections had been misunderstood by everyone.

The simple reality that emerged was that these projections indicated that if the Government continued with its policies, there would be a big rise in inflation, a big rise in unemployment or pressure on the balance of payments. These projections were very interesting and it would be useful if the Senate could go back to see them. Of course, one cannot see them now as they are not being released. They were not released this year because the Government chose to give in to the demands of the ACTU that the projections not proceed.

That is only part of the disappointment about the results of EPAC. Another element is that it was supposed to provide additional capacity for interest groups to have a pre-Budget input to the Government. The Senate will remember that in the run up to the Budget period under the previous Government there was an enormous range of opportunities for many organisations-in fact hundreds of people-representing both major and minor groups in the community to present their cases to the previous Government before the Budget. What has happened is that EPAC has been interposed between the community and the Government. Last year, according to the report, in response to an invitation issued to community organisations, the Council received 19 written submissions on Budget policy. It seems to me that if one can establish the effectiveness of a body which is there to diminish the capacity of the community to have a close relationship with the Government pre-Budget, EPAC has succeeded in being that instrument of government policy. It has not fulfilled its task in terms of short term economic planning and advice because of the Government's activity and it has not done so in respect of advice at Budget time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.