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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2884


Senator SHORT (4.03 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

The annual report, as is usually the case with EPAC, is a useful document. It summarises the role of EPAC over the last year in terms of the forum it provides for the discussion and consideration of various matters of economic policy and economic planning in Australia. It plays a very useful role in that respect.

  The report details the work in which the council has been involved in the last year. During that time it has undertaken and participated in some very important work on issues of national importance, including the FitzGerald national savings review, the Hilmer competition policy review, the Treasury retirement incomes modelling task force and the Dr Michael Keating employment opportunities task force. As well, the council has been asked by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) to act as a sounding board for the ideas being developed by the employment opportunities task force.

  What the report understandably fails to point out is that whilst the issues of competition, national savings and employment creation—the matters that it has been dealing with over the last year—are imperative to our nation's success, the present government has done nothing to act upon these reports and nothing substantively to resolve and tackle these national issues. We had a classic example of the lack of resolve by the government in terms of necessary reforms in the last 24 hours.

  According to today's press reports, the Treasurer (Mr Dawkins) was rolled yesterday on the issue of postal reform. The budget increased the deficit and, therefore, Australia's national debt rather than reducing it. This is despite all the fine rhetoric of the government in terms of its economic aspirations. Far from moving towards the reduction of deficits and the reduction of the national debt, the government's policies have moved in quite the opposite direction.

  Despite Mr Keating's pledge on election night to get people back to work, Australia is still choking with an unemployment rate of 11.2 per cent. The government is very deeply divided over a wide range of major policy issues, the most important of which is economic policy. In the last few days we have seen a major split within the government between its two major economic ministers on the future direction of tax and expenditure policies in this country.

  I remind the Senate of the now besieged and discredited statement of the Treasurer after the last election, when he said, `I emphasise that this will be achieved without resort to any new taxes.' That was a similar commitment to the one made by the Prime Minister late last year when he was blatantly attempting to buy votes prior to the last election.

  In the last couple of days we have had major conflicting statements by the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance (Mr Willis) over future tax rises. It is only a week ago that the Minister for Finance said that the deficit strategy may involve some revenue increases, though the government would be very cautious about introducing any substantial tax increases. He made it quite clear that it was a prospect in the government's mind to increase taxes, yet the Treasurer, Mr Dawkins, said on the other hand that the government was opposed to future tax increases and that these would not occur.

  Despite the fine work of organisations such as EPAC, when a government is as divided over major policy issues and the fundamental direction of economic policy as this government is, it is no wonder the economy is in the state that it is in. I hope that the Economic Planning Advisory Council will be able to do more to get the government back on line over the next year.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.