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Thursday, 21 March 1968

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - In speaking to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech, delivered at the opening of this session of Parliament, I join with all other speakers in expressing my sympathy to Mrs Holt and her family in the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the passing of the late Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Harold

Holt. 1 was in the United States when the tragedy occurred, and one of the things which struck me was the great publicity that it received in that country. Many people expressed their regret and sorrow at the passing of the late Prime Minister and the matter received great coverage in the Press, over television and in al) other forms of news distribution in the United States. I join with all the other honourable members in expressing my sympathy and condolences to the Holt family.

One of the disappointments in this debate has been the failure of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) to come forward in this House and to give the Parliament an outline of what he proposes to do. I understand that he was listed to speak in this debate at 8 p.m. or as near as possible to that time. I believe that the sitting was suspended a quarter of an hour earlier than normal this evening to enable the Prime Minister to get the call at 8 o'clock. What has happened? Has he taken ill?

Mr Arthur - He has been to the dentist.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - I accept the explanation but I am certain that if I were expected to make an important speech in the Parliament I would not go to the dentist but would be in a fit condition to tell the Parliament and the nation what my future policy would be. The Prime Minister should not have waited until the last night of this debate to speak. The debate was to have concluded at 6 p.m., but to enable the Prime Minister to speak there was an extension of the time allotted to the debate. The Prime Minister should have been in this chamber over a week ago to outline what his Government proposed to do so that every honourable member would have had the opportunity to comment on that policy.

The Prime Minister was elected after one of the most bitter fights and power struggles within the Liberal Party. It does not say much for honourable members opposite that not one of them was capable of being appointed to that high office. For the first time in the history of the Federal Parliament - since 1901 - it has been necessary to elect a senator as Prime Minister. According to the Press, radio and television, there was a mighty and bitter struggle in the meeting room and behind the scenes in the Liberal Party. It is evident from what has taken place that bitterness and division still exist in that Party.

One question that arises is: Did the Prime Minister withhold his comments in this place so as not to divulge to honourable members the reason why the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) stated that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was an unfit and unacceptable person to be Prime Minister of Australia? Is not the Treasurer the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party? When Sir Robert Menzies retired from the office of Prime Minister did not his Deputy Leader take over as Leader of the Liberal Party and automatically become Prime Minister of Australia? Why did not the Treasurer, who is Deputy Leader of the Liberal Parly, become Leader of that Party? I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to come out into the open and say why the Treasurer is unfit to be and unacceptable as Prime Minister. If he is unfit and unacceptable for that position is he not likewise unfit to be and unacceptable as Treasurer? What is the reason for the Deputy Prime Minister's statement? Is there a personal vendetta between the two Macs? Is it a question of the honesty of the Treasurer? Is it a question of the way he runs his Department? Why do they not come out into the open and tell us the facts? Is this a reason why the Prime Minister has not taken the opportunity to speak in this debate? Did he not want to outline the reasons for the difference of opinion between these two senior Cabinet Ministers? Or did he not want to tell us the cause of the difference of opinion between the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) on the state of the economy? These are not backbench members, nor are they a Minister and a backbench member disagreeing on a matter of policy. They are members of Cabinet, the inner circle, and they are disagreeing on the policy that is being pursued. Just what is the state of the economy?

I am disappointed, as are many honourable members, that the Prime Minister did not outline his policies more than a week ago. When he was elected as Leader of the Liberal Party he emphasised that he was to have a great national development programme, that he was to do something about health and that he was to provide justice for the pensioners. He had two defence policies in as many days. We all remember his saying that there would be no more Australian servicemen for Vietnam. But what has happened since he made that statement? Did the backroom boys get at him? Did they needle him and tell him he was off the beaten track and get him back on the road again? So we are to have another statement from him in a few days. What will he do about education? Surely a man who was Minister for Education and Science, as the Prime Minister was, now knows what he, as Leader of the Government, wants to do. The things he wants to do are no longer subject to the dictates and decisions of the Prime Minister. He is the Prime Minister. Why has he not told us in the House what he proposes to do about education? All these things require an answer. We want a lead from the Government. We want to know what it will do on these matters. Will it only talk about them?

Much has been said in the last few days in this House about the plight of pensioners. Why has the Government not brought down a supplementary budget to increase pensions? Since pensions were last increased almost 2 years ago there has been an increase in the basic wage and there have been substantial increases both in margins and in the cost of living. But there has been no increase for pensioners, who are not living but barely existing on the pittance that is handed out to them. This Government should during this session bring down a supplementary budget to increase not only pensions but also repatriation benefits, about which plenty will be said next week. But it has not announced that it will do so. We used to hear a lot from the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) from his place in the back row of the government beaches, but his senior Liberal colleagues did not take long to tame him. He now meekly accepts the decisions of the Government. That is the end of him. It is sad indeed that this great revolutionary, this outspoken back bench member has, as the honourable member for Bendigo interjects, changed from the role of a lion to that of a Iamb - and he is a pretty tame old lamb at that.

I should like to deal with a number of other matters, the first of which is the proposed gerrymander by the Country Party.

In the proposed redistribution of electorates the Country Party hopes to create a situation similar to that in South Australia where the Labor Party though it polled 54% of the votes, could win only nineteen of the thirtynine seats. Does Labor in that State get into government after winning 54% of the votes? Of course it does not. The people sitting in the corner benches in this chamber will try to do again in the coming redistribution of electorates what they have done in South Australia. Because of the 20% differential that is allowed two country voters can be equal to three city voters. When we challenge this system we are told that the country voters produce the wealth of Australia. I shall quote facts and figures to give the lie to this statement and to show who the real producers are. I should like the figures to be incorporated in Hansard.

Mr Turnbull - Read them.

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