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Wednesday, 24 August 1960

Mr HALBERT (Moore) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, I have listened with great attention to Opposition speakers this evening, and I should like to deal briefly with the remarks made by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), which were ably answered in detail by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), who represents an agricultural area. I cannot help pointing out the great insincerity of the observations on agriculture made by the honorable member for Hughes. They indicated a complete lack of knowledge of the subject, because his arguments and complaints were based on things that do not exist. This is indicative of the kind of cheap propaganda that Opposition members attempt to make out of a popular idea.

I.   should like also to mention some remarks made by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), who said that the Government has been inconsistent in making the budgetary changes that it has made in this Budget. I seriously ask: Do Opposition members really believe that the Budget should not be changed from year to year and that whatever is done in one year must be done in the next year? To suggest that would be to take a most unrealistic view. It is difficult to imagine that such a suggestion could be made seriously, particularly in conjunction with the accusation that this Budget is unimaginative. The very suggestion that it is unimaginative indicates that Opposition members expect a change. Admittedly, the changes that have been made perhaps are not those that honorable members opposite desire, but certainly those changes are the required ones.

The honorable member for Bonython also complained that the inflationary pressures with which we are beset have been caused almost entirely by the freedom accorded to certain classes of business to do a variety of things. We have heard much talk about big business and hire purchase. We should do well to reflect, when we talk about the horrors of hire purchase, big business and the like, who are the big business and hirepurchase interests. I wish to remind honorable members that many thousands of people are shareholders in companies the profits of which, whatever they may be, are distributed among the shareholders. Indeed, I have no doubt that some of those shareholders are looking at me now from the other side of the chamber. Big business represents the people. Admittedly, there are a few managers who receive big salaries which, no doubt, they earn.

The Opposition's tactics of trying to scare the public with the bogy of hire purchase and big business are unrealistic, particularly in respect of hire purchase, which provides an outlet for the investment of the savings of one section of the community, as a result of which other sections of the community are enabled to buy goods and thereby provide a market for the manufacturers who, in the manufacture of those goods, provide employment for the workers. Sound, conservative hire-purchase activity is one of the greatest benefits that Australia has had, Mr. Temporary Chairman. This sphere of activity has been of great importance in our financial affairs, and I suppose it can be said that the financial affairs of the country are of the greatest importance to the members of this Parliament. That may be thought by some to be the greatest under-statement of the year.

Public opinion both before and after the delivery of the Budget speech must be studied. That study is of great consequence to Government supporters. The study of public opinion on the Budget reveals great confusion, but one thing is very clear. All the statements about the Budget made on behalf of responsible bodies and organizations have one thing in common: They all call for the reduction of taxation in all of its various forms, greater government expenditure in a variety of fields, the promotion of progress and development, and the controlling of inflation. It is very unfortunate that there is seldom any attempt to make constructive suggestions and follow them to their logical conclusions. Even the analyses of the requirements of the Budget which are made by the leader writers and writers of special articles in the newspapers present perfect examples of the confusions and contradictions that appear in the consideration of budgetary matters, thus indicating the tremendous difficulties inherent in the financial affairs of modern government. The general cries a-e, " Spend less ", " Spend more ", " Tax less " and " Tax more ".

This Budget is an honest and therefore genuine attempt to strike the happy balance between these demands. I sincerely believe that while we have every one a little unhappy we have good government. There is always a risk, of course - an element of a gamble - with respect to the public reaction and the public acceptance of responsibility both for events in Australia and for events overseas. The need to strike this balance is, therefore, a sound reason for the Government changing its policy, or its Budget approach, from year to year. It is absolutely essential, of course, that this should be done.

I think one of the main questions that we should ask is: What does the average man or woman in the street think about it? What does the non-expert say? Does he really believe that the country is ruined, as has been suggested by almost every speaker on the opposite side of the chamber? Does he really think that the living standards are poor? Of course he does not. Reflect for a moment on the rapid growth of Australia, the security of employment, the medical and hospital benefits available, the adequate provision for retirement, the fact that retail stores are full of non-essential goods - which, by the way, are being purchased in great quantities - the fact that very few people are without private motor transport, and finally that there are good prospects for further steady improvements if we are prepared to work for them. What more could any reasonable man or woman require? The only vital question that he or she may ask is this: Is this a false prosperity and can it last?

Mr Peters - Can it?

Mr HALBERT - I think it can, given sense and co-operation from honorable members of the Opposition. This is where the sanity of a sound government comes in, a sound Liberal-Country Party Government that has no time for sensationalism or tor the vaudeville acts that we have seen put on by honorable members opposite.

The great weaknesses of the Opposition's arguments against this Budget were amply displayed by its Leader on Tuesday night. His display was more suited to a Broadway musical or a Wirth's circus performance. He did not offer the sound, logical argument that we are entitled to expect from a responsible leader.

I repeat that there is no question about our prosperity. The question for the Government is how that prosperity can be maintained and increased. There is also no doubt that we are on the verge of losing our prosperity through inflation. On this point J will agree, for once, with members of the Opposition. This is our one major problem. No doubt we will hear many people saying they are sick of the word " inflation ". I have no doubt that before this Budget debate is finished honorable members of this Parliament will be sick of it, as will the members of the press gallery. But unfortunately we must continue to talk about it. We must continue to make the public conscious of it. It is better to be sick of it than sick from it. The exporters. particularly in the primary industries, are already sick from it, financially sick and getting sicker.

The Australian public is indebted to an organization known as the Institute of Public Affairs of Victoria, for its recent booklet entitled " Inflation - Everybody's Business ". It should be read by every thinking person and every responsible person in all sections of the community, from big business to the trade unions. It is a concise review, clearly illustrated, giving the facts about inflation, and endeavouring t.-. answer such questions as: What is inflation? Does inflation matter? Why is it so bail? Who is to blame and who benefits from the high prices?

There is no doubt that the fight against inflation is everybody's concern. To my mind the problem is chiefly concerned with cash payments for wages, salaries and services on the one hand, and prices on the other hand. Why are we getting out of line with the rest of the world? We have heard many times during this Budget debate thai costs in Australia are not in any way comparable with those in other countries. To understand why, we must obviously study the different systems in operation in the various countries. What do we find is the major difference between Australia and other countries? I think that basically the main difference is the arbitration system in operation in this country. We believe in this system. We could not do without it. But any system should be looked at from time to time. We must ask ourselves whether it is working realistically. Is it soundly based?

I believe that we can chase this problem round and round, skirting the fringes of it and not getting anywhere, unless we realize that no one gets any benefit in existing circumstances, and many are getting a really raw deal. The very people who think they are getting benefits are very soon disillusioned, especially when they come to evaluate their savings and make arrangements for their retirement. Why can we not reorganize our thinking about our arbitration system? This is a national responsibility, and we cannot continue to skate around it. We must face it, even if it involves temporary political oblivion.

We see responsible Labour organizations - the Australian Council of Trade Unions is one of them - demanding at the present time higher real wages and, in the same breath, shorter working hours. How unrealistic can you get? They are doing this at a time when the rank and file of their membership does not want shorter hours, knowing the results that would follow. These members do, however, want and are entitled to higher real wages, so that they may obtain the goods that will help them to enjoy their leisure, rather than have merely a certain number of hours in which to loaf.

As our productivity increases we should look, first, I believe, for longer holiday periods and better retirement allowances. Above all, we should try to ensure that more goods and services are available. This inane support of demands for shorter working hours in this time of crisis in our economic system is completely beyond my comprehension and, I think, the comprehension of practically all the people of Australia. I am reminded of the sage who said that the trouble with more leisure time is that pretty soon you find yourself working overtime to pay for the hobbies you have taken up.

The Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party want to have it both ways. If the Leader of the Opposition was seen daily in this chamber trying to put a 2-in. steel bolt into a 1-in. hole, he would be certified and we would lose the pleasure of his company. But he is mentally and vocally attempting this exercise daily, and with impunity. The Australian Labour Party calls this a lifeless Budget. I would remind the House and the people of Australia that if the present Labour Party came to power it would mean the death of the country.

I have already briefly mentioned the vital importance of inflation in the economy as affecting the exporter, and particularly the exporter of primary products, upon whom the welfare of our country depends to such a great extent. I want to mention more particularly the wool industry, which is by far our largest primary industry. Wool-growers are selling their product at world market prices without having any real control over their costs of production. Must we wait until this industry is completely bankrupt before we do anything to help it? Let us face the fact that continued inflation, over which the wool-growers have no control, with a falling price for wool, will definitely bankrupt the industry, and indeed will bankrupt the nation.

When discussing our prosperity, we hear glib talk of how good we are, what good managers we are, what good workers we are, and how good is our productivity. All these things contribute to our standard of living. However, the plain fact is that our excellent standard of living, when compared with most countries, comes from the sheep's back. Wool is to us what oil is to other prosperous countries. Wool provides the jam and cream on our bread. As a matter of fact, it almost provides the bread also. When we talk of internal productivity, we do not realize that wool requires a relatively small number of manhours to produce and is exchanged for products which require many more manhours to produce overseas. This is one of the main reasons for our high productivity. Without the benefit of wool, our over-all productivity would be materially lowered. Unless our economy is stabilized and unless we face this fact of life, we will certainly have to take our bread without any jam or cream. I believe that we would, in this situation, have to provide large subsidies or an alteration in our exchange rate in order to keep our producers solvent. I agree that this would be a shocking situation, but we must realize that it will occur unless something is done to keep the costs of these industries at a reasonable level.

Much has been said about the Government's policy of not interfering with producer organizations but permitting them to control their own affairs. This is a very good policy and it is democratically the right policy. However, I appeal to the wool-growing industry, in the emergency in which the wool producer organizations find themselves, to get together before it is too late, because I consider that it is later than they think. The dangers of disorganized organizations are too great. Responsible government, whatever its basic policy may be, cannot continue to ignore indecision and lack of unanimity in such a vital industry. I have made an independent study of these matters and I believe that the position in the industry is caused by too many ideas and not enough concrete plans. Reason can and must prevail.

Finally, may I say that there is only one basic alternative to our economic difficulties in the midst of plenty? We must face the basic proposition of adjusting wages and costs to prices or prices to wages and costs. The first method has proved a failure. The proposition of the Australian Labour Party of more and more for less and less is the true enemy of the worker, the producer, the fixed income groups, the pensioners and the nation.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - Order! On a number of occasions to-day, there has been too much audible conversation in the chamber. I ask honorable members to keep in mind that some members are not equipped with voices as strong as those of other members, but they too should be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard.

Progress reported.

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