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Wednesday, 24 August 1960

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- I rise to support the amendment, which proposes the reduction of the vote now before the Chair. I believe the Budget is most uninspiring and unimaginative. In some ways, it is an inaccurate document. I believe the Budget should be opposed, first, because of its failure to grant greater increases in all social services; secondly, because of its failure to provide adequate measures to combat inflation; thirdly, because of its continuance of a policy which can only result in heightened inflation; and fourthly, because of its lack of provision for planning on a national scale commensurate with development. The Treasurer seems to have adopted for himself another of the cliches which have become so common in a budget speech. Last year the word "imbalance" played a very prominent part in the Budget speech. This year we have the words " banking liquidity " and " pressures " falling very frequently from the Treasurer's lips.

If this Government has a policy, it is impossible to follow it. I would describe its policy as being one of by guess or by God. Providence has been very kind to this country in giving us a remarkable succession of good seasons over the last fifteen years. But the Treasurer and Government supporters do not lack modesty. They have claimed for the Government many of the results that are attributable to this remarkable succession of good seasons and not to anything that the Government has done.

This Government's policy in relation to taxation cannot be understood. It has now abolished the 5 per cent, income tax rebate which it granted only last year. It has done nothing about the supplementary Budget which was introduced in March, 1956. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when introducing that Budget stated that it was a temporary emergency measure to counter inflation. The so-called temporary taxes included an impost of 2s. 8d. a gallon on beer. That tax remains. There was a tax of 3d. on a large packet of cigarettes. That tax remains. A " temporary " additional tax of 3d. a gallon was imposed on petrol. That tax remains. The " temporary " emergency sales tax of 30 per cent, on motor cars also remains. If you study this Government's actions both prior to and after 1956 you will see that it has followed an unchanging pattern. It has been running away from the problems that confront us. Its policy has been one contradiction after another.

The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) last evening made the rather magnificent statement that the Government was exercising restraint in all things. When you have inflation continuing more or less unchecked, and two-thirds or more of the population suffering hardship because of the Government's inaction in relation to inflation, it is the understatement of the year for a Minister to say that the Government is exercising restraint.

One of the interesting things which have emerged from this debate is the attitude of the Government to constitutional reform. I well remember that when the Constitutional Review Committee, comprising members of both sides and from both Houses of the Parliament, was set up, no less a person than the Prime Minister himself displayed the greatest enthusiasm for it. After many months of protracted and extensive inquiry, the committee brought down certain submissions. However, since the Committee was set up the Prime Minister's attitude has undergone a remarkable change. For some reason he has suddenly gone cold on constitutional reform. I think that the reason for the change of attitude may be found in the question which the Minister for Territories asked last night - what would Labour do if Parliament obtained the additional powers which the committee has recommended? Instead of considering what is best for the country, the Government is playing politics. The Minister's speech last night indicated the precise reason for the Prime Minister's change of attitude to this very important matter of constitutional reform.

Every one knows that unless this Parliament is granted additional powers it will be unable to solve many of the problems that confront us. Unlike most other countries, we operate under a written constitution and, in view of the developments which have taken place in Australia, particularly during the last 25 years, it is of the utmost importance that the Constitution be revised to make it conform with modern trends. But if the Government is more concerned with maintaining party advantage and with playing party politics, there can be no future for Australia. What is the more important, the advancement of the Liberal Party or the advancement of Australia? Does the Prime Minister feel that it is more important for his party to obtain some trifling advantage by failing to press on with this necessary constitutional reform than it is for Australia to progress out of its present backward state which has resulted from the lack of vision and courage on the part of the Government?

Time and time again the Treasurer, when we have questioned him regarding the Government's attitude to present-day problems, has referred to what happened in 1948-49. 1 have attempted to point out on previous occasions that this is just a form of escapism - an escape from reality - but the Treasurer has persisted in his attitude. He has said quite blithely on many occasions that justification for the Government's policies can be found1 in the fact that the Labour Party spent so much in 1948-49 and the Government spends so much more to-day. If I wished to indulge in this ridiculous form of reasoning I could point out to the Treasurer that he was a member of a government in 1938-39 which spent only £16,500,000 on social services whereas a Labour Government in 1948-49 spent not less than £90,000,000 in this direction. Of course, the comparison is ridiculous but 1 have stated it merely to show how absurd the Treasurer is in harking back to what the Labour Party is alleged to have done in 1948-49.

In his Budget speech the Treasurer made an interesting reference to speculation. He said -

Speculation in shares and other securities and in land is disturbingly active and prevalent.

Having made such a sweeping statement, one would have imagined that the Treasurer would have foreshadowed some legislation to combat the activities of speculators. But, having mentioned this matter, he completely forgot it.

Some of the features of this Budget seem to me to indicate clearly the thinking of the Government in its approach to national problems. One can give an instance by mentioning the income tax deduction for subscriptions to trade associations and unions. This is to be raised from ten guineas to twenty guineas. The proposal will cost the Government £25,000 in a full year. That amount is of little consequence in this Budget. Who will benefit from this proposal? Most trade unionists pay £5, £6 or £7 a year in union subscriptions. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has suggested that union members pay £6 a year, and that suggestion has my support. A unionist who belongs to some workers' club or some social club will have to pay another two or three guineas a year, but not many unionists have to meet this expense. So it is obvious that the only persons who will benefit from the increasing of the deduction in respect of subscriptions to a trade organization from ten guineas to twenty guineas will be people who belong to some of the wealthy clubs that dot the landscape in our capital cities. The Government's actions demonstrate more conclusively than do words the thinking responsible for proposals of this kind, which were never asked for and which will give no benefit to the great mass of the community, but will benefit only the very few.

Another feature of this Budget which has disturbed me - and I have been disturbed from time to time by a similar feature in other Budgets - is the apparent lack of information and clarity. I may be accused of being inexperienced and naive, and I am prepared to plead guilty to the charge. But I believe that a Budget should exhibit more accuracy and clarity than we have been accustomed to find in the Budgets presented in this Parliament down the years. I have tried to get information about the actual net result with respect to the Budget and the Estimates in various years, but on making inquiries I was told that the information I sought was not available in complete form until the financial year 1958-59. One just could not get the overall picture of what was happening in respect of the Budget and the Estimates before that financial year, although I was told that the Treasury had the information.

On inquiring from the Treasury, I was told that it did not publish the net result in the financial year 1955-56, when there was a deficit of £3,236,000. The information was not published in 1956-57. In the Budget speech in that year, we were told that a surplus of £220,000 was expected, but the actual surplus was £16.992,000. The net result in the year 1957- 58 was not published, and although we had been told in the Budget speech in that year that revenue and expenditure were expected to balance, there was a surplus of £10,336,000. We were able to get conclusive figures for the first time in 1958- 59, when the Treasurer of the day budgeted for a deficit of £110,000,000, and achieved an actual deficit of £29,535,000. We all know the story of the last financial year, when a deficit of £61,000,000 was budgeted for. However the deficit turned out to be only £28,922,000. The Treasurer has budgeted for a surplus of £15,493,000 in the current financial year. In view of what has happened before, I think that if the existing trend continues and if we continue to be favoured with the good seasons that we have had up to the present time, the actual surplus will be more like £40,000,000 or £50,000,000.

Estimates that turn out to be completely astray are thoroughly misleading. Nobody expects a government to make estimates that are completely accurate; there must be some flexibility. But when actual deficits are about £80,000,000 and about £32,000,000 below those expected, as has happened in recent years, something is wrong. This misestimating, as I regard it, is quite unfair, in my view, because it provides the Government with a defence and allows it to ignore situations that should not be permitted to arise. It is obvious that if the Government's estimating were more accurate, social service benefits could have been increased and development could have been promoted. We are told in the Budget speech what the position will be at the end of the financial year, and we find that these predictions are completely astray. This inaccurate estimating, as I have already said, provides the Government with a good refuge.

The Government's estimates continue to be completely astray. Last financial year, it received in revenue £46,500,000 more than had been estimated - £39,000,000 of it from taxation and £7,500,000 from other sources. Customs revenue increased by £8,681,000 and sales tax collections by £14,185,000. Income tax returned £10,839,000 more and pay-roll tax £1,961,000 more. As a result of this trend the situation is becoming intolerable, because the people on the lower incomes are carrying burdens which they should not reasonably be asked to bear. Under the administration of this Government, which we have heard defended so much by Government supporters, who consistently hark back to 1948-49, the burden of income tax has increased greatly. In 1948-49, income tax amounted to £67 a head. In 1959-60, it totalled £135 a head. Last financial year, excise was £23 10s. a head, customs duty amounted to £8 5s. a head, sales tax totalled £14 5s. a head, and payroll tax represented £4 19s. 9d. a head.

Last financial year, the Government collected £252,000,000 in excise, compared with £229,000,000 returned by the income tax on companies. This comparison is significant. Members of the Government obviously have their tongues in their cheeks "when they talk about the great burdens that are to be imposed on private companies, because, as I have shown, in the last financial year the amount received from one individual item of taxation, to say nothing of personal income tax, exceeded the amount paid in company tax.

Let me now refer to the Government's record with regard to road construction and maintenance. In accordance with an agreement arrived at last year between the Commonwealth and the States, and which will operate for five years, the Government proposes to distribute to the States £42,000,000 in accordance with an approved formula. But the Government fails to tell the people that it received £68,000,000 last year from the petrol tax, and £80,000,000 from sales tax on motor vehicles. From these two tax items the Government received £148,000,000, but it will distribute to the States for roads purposes only £42,000,000. When it is realized that a mile of major highway costs £50,000 to £60,000, it can be seen that the amount allocated will accomplish very little.

One of the main faults I find with the Government, not only with regard to this matter of roads, but also in respect of other forms of its activities, is that it is trying to do, and is doing, a little everywhere but not enough anywhere. This is evident in a field of government endeavour with which I shall deal next. I refer to civil aviation. At the present time we have not one decent air terminal in this country. The Public Works Committee of this Parliament recently examined a proposal for a new terminal and extensions to the existing air field at Perth. If, as is hoped, the Parliament agrees to the committee's recommendations, we will have, for the first time, an air terminal worthy of the name. But the point I wish to make is that over the years the Department of Civil Aviation has not been able to plan its programme effectively. I suggest that instead of spreading the money allocated to it in one year throughout the Commonwealth the department would do better to concentrate on necessary work at one location, so that jobs could be done thoroughly. For instance, if the department concentrated on work required at Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, it would not be necessary for it to undertake further work of any consequence at the particular airport for the following ten or fifteen years.

At the present time the department's activities are so restricted that within three or four years of the completion of a project, as was found in the case of the terminal at Adelaide, the facilities become inadequate to meet increased demands. This inability to plan effectively results from the failure of the Government to face its responsibilities and its refusal to take proper cognizance of future requirements. In planning any project, a government department should be entitled to consider requirements for the following 25 years. Unless the Government accepts this as a principle, we will continue to see projects with very limited usefulness embarked upon. In other words, the Government solves nothing, and merely puts off the day when it will have to face its responsibilities.

Let me refer also to the Government's activities in the Territories. I believe the Government lacks imagination in its approach to the problems of the Territories under its control, particularly those of the Northern Territory. Again we find the Government restricting the amount of finance available, and instead of doing an adequate job at a particular place at a cost of, say, £100,000, to solve a problem for the next ten or fifteen years, the Government spreads the money and spends £25,000 at each of four different places. In the result, it is merely wasting time and energy and dissipating our resources and our finance.

I now wish to deal with the Government's attitude towards overseas loans. The optimism displayed by the Government in this field, when one considers its recent action in lifting import restrictions, is quite amazing. This is not the first time that this Government has lifted import restrictions, and we know what happened when it did so on previous occasions. Even some honorable members of the Australian Country Party have boasted that import restrictions will never again be imposed, but I do not believe that any one can be as optimistic as that, because such an assertion completely ignores the economic scheme of things. As I have said before, if there are a continued deterioration in international relations, and consequent drains on our overseas reserves,' the Government will, of necessity, have to re-impose import restrictions. It may have to do so in any case for the protection of Australian industries, which cannot be left at the mercy of overseas companies. But this Government seems determined to continue increasing our overseas indebtedness. Why it persists in obtaining these loans overseas is incomprehensible. Such loans are merely a waste of money, because in many cases they do not serve to bring capital goods or equipment to Australia, and are used, instead, for the purchase of luxuries. This is, of course, a dissipation of our overseas balances.

The Labour Party does not oppose the introduction of overseas capital into Australia, and claims to the contrary that have been repeatedly made by Government supporters are quite inaccurate and misleading. We do not mind overseas capital coming to Australia if it is going to help our economic development. But we do not propose to sit idly by and see control of our economy taken over by foreign capital, as has happened in other countries. If foreign capital can bring to Australia something that will assist in our development, we have absolutely no opposition to it, but we do not believe that the entry of foreign capital should be unrestricted and uninhibited. On the contrary, we say that it should be considered with caution and discretion.

I wish to say a few words also on the question of war service land settlement. I look forward to what honorable members of the Country Party will have to say about this. We find that while formerly the Government made £6,000,000 available for this purpose, the amount is now reduced by two-thirds. So far as the Government is concerned, war service land settlement has practically ceased.

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