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Tuesday, 27 October 1970

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Minister for Primary Industry) - The matter of public importance that we are discussing today is one in which I think everyone would be interested. No doubt there is concern about the increasing costs which confront our exporting industries particularly, and also the increasing prices being charged consumers in Australia. It was a most interesting exercise to listen to the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) leading for the Australian Labor Party. He came into the House with a prepared rather pedantic speech. In fact its language was so unfamiliar to him that I doubt whether he prepared it. The Government received notification - at least I did - about half an hour before question time that this debate was coming on.

The honourable member adopted a rather academic attitude to the question of inflation and how it should be tackled or managed. The crux of the question is this: How would the Labor Party manage the economy and the inflationary problem confronting this nation compared with the Government's record in that regard and its general approach to the problem of increasing costs? The honourable member leading for the Australian Labor Party ignored how his Party would approach the problem in practical terms but he suggested a somewhat theoretical approach of controlling wages and prices. While admitting that the Commonwealth had no power in that field he suggested that we should have a national referendum designed to take that power from the

States and to confer it on the Commonwealth. Even if that were a possibility, is that the right approach to inflation? Let him tell me of one non-totalitarian country in the world which has succeeded in controlling inflation by controlling wages and prices. All that does is to foster and encourage illegal methods of trading, black marketing, under the counter prices and shortages of goods throughout the economy. Of course the honourable member made no mention of the disastrous and crippling effects of the Labor Party's policy of allowing unbridled demands for increases in wages; supporting and, in some cases encouraging, industrial lawlessness; and supporting the imposition of a 35-hour working week on this nation. That alone would have an almost crucifying effect on our rural industries.

This Government has been very conscious of increasing costs and has managed the economy over the past 20 years in a way that is equalled by very few countries in the world. In fact the only country amongst the developed nations of the free world which has had a lower increase in inflation than has Australia is West Germany. Australia has had a magnificent record but over the last decade costs and prices have tended to go up because of increasing wage demands and the very high levels of employment that have been maintained. Let us imagine a Labor government in office. Let us imagine a Labor government fulfilling all of its extravagant promises - promises which would involve greatly increased Government expenditure - promises which could not do other than increase the inflationary pressures in our economy.

Dr Patterson - Tell us a few of them.

Mr ANTHONY - The honourable gentleman has asked me to tell him a few of the Labor Party's promises. You name it, tha Labor Party has promised it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has been going around the countryside promising regional development centres, promising to provide urban areas with better water and sewerage facilities, promising improved social service benefits and increased pensions. You name it, the Labor Party has promised it. There is no limit to what the Leader of the Opposition says can be given because he claims that there is no difficulty in giving it. If you seek to provide additional moneys for Government expenditure they have to be obtained either by increasing taxes - we never hear the Labor Party mention increased taxes - or by deficit financing which is the creation of money. Nothing is more inflationary than that. During the past year the Government has tried deliberately to reduce inflationary pressures within the economy. Through the operations of the Reserve Bank liquidity has been kept at a fairly low level although interest rates have been higher than one would wish them to be.

One must recognise that the Government's ultimate objective is for this country to remain economically secure and to keep inflation at as low a level as is possible. The main thrust of the recent Budget was directed towards curbing the inflationary pressures within the economy. It had within it a very high domestic surplus which has a tendency to withdraw money from the economy. The Government adopted that policy because it is conscious of the serious effects of a high domestic surplus on our exporting industries, particularly the rural industries which are suffering the effects of declining world prices as well as increasing local costs. If any primary producer thinks that under another government his circumstances could not be worse than they are today let me say to him: Do not kid yourself too much. If the Labor Party comes into power and pushes ahead with its plan for a 35-hour working week it will be disastrous for you.

It is pitiful to hear the honourable member for Dawson, who represents a rural electorate in the central area of Queensland in which there are cane growers and beef and dairy producers, say in this House that the 35-hour working week will have little effect on them. Let him go back into his electorate and justify that statement. Let him go back and talk to primary producers about increasing local government rates. What would happen to local government rates if a 35-hour working week were introduced? They would jump immediately by 10 per cent, 12 per cent or even 15 per cent. What about charges for electricity? What about water charges and charges for all the other service industries in country areas which have no capacity to absorb wage increases through increased productivity? How does a local government clerk increase his productivity? A shorter working week would be an additional impost on the ratepayers. I think all of us in rural areas are absolutely fearful of the consequences. 1 do not know how a member such as the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) can sit there idly supporting a 35-hour working week when the wool growers in his area must know the disastrous effect of this sort of policy. We have been given notice by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions that next year, after the Senate elections, will be the year of 35-hour working week and that the ACTU will try to bring it in by industrial trouble. There will be a series of running strikes across the country. No doubt the ACTU will be supported by the Labor Party, because it is in the Labor Party's platform that people should have a 35-hour working week.

If there is one thing that is of concern to the people of this nation it is increasing costs, whether they be for food, rent or clothing. The housewife, the farmer and the businessman are all desperately worried about how they will keep pace with this situation. Nothing can accelerate it more than the policies of the Labor Party, which makes extravagant, wild promises without any consideration of their economic consequences. As I said, it does not matter what is mentioned, the Labor Party will promise it, and if the promise is not big enough it will make a bigger one still. Policies directed towards a shorter working week without a corresponding increase in productivity - and there are so many industries in which it is impossible to have increased productivity - will only produce severer effects on the consumers. The honourable member included consumers in his remarks. He said that consumer costs are going up. Is he arguing against the food producers charging higher prices? If their wages bill and transport costs are going up, do they not have a right to ask the consumers for a higher price? I have heard the honourable member for Dawson oppose in this House a move for increases in the price of wheat in Australia.

Dr Patterson - That was a long time ago.

Mr ANTHONY - You have done it.

Dr Patterson - When?

Mr ANTHONY - You opposed $1.71 a bushel as the domestic price and said that it should be $1.50. I suppose that if you follow that, you will oppose an increase in the price of sugar.

Dr Patterson - Never.

Mr ANTHONY - The honourable member is saying that he does not oppose an increase in the price of sugar. Should there be an increase in the price of sugar?

Dr Patterson - Yes.

Mr ANTHONY - Right. He does not mind an increase in the price of sugar. It just shows how parochial he is. 1 wonder whether the rest of his Party supports that. Does he believe that there should be an increase in the price of butter in Australia?

Mr Kennedy - I raise a point of order, ls it not contrary to the Standing Orders for the Minister to direct his remarks directly to the honourable member for Dawson? Should he not direct his remarks to the Chair?

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