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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1618

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - I would like to express my gratification that the Government is facing up to the problem of giving the Tariff Board more resources to enable it to proceed with a review of that large area of the. tariff in which some items have not been reviewed for 40 years and duties on some items are not needed or used. The present situation gives the opportunity for 3 things to happen. The honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) mentioned them briefly. In the first place there is the opportunity for undoubtedly high profits to be taken. This does happen in many cases. However, I will not spell them out publicly. Nevertheless there are plenty of examples where this has happened. Because of the. tariff the opportunity exists for making over-award payments. Manufacturers can operate in the certain knowledge that prices can be increased because there is such a large area of tariff protection yet available for their industries. I am afraid that over-award payments in protected industries are common. Advantage is taken of tariff protection to make over-award payments. One can always tell a man who is dining out on an expense account by the enthusiasm with which he summons the waiter. It is very easy for an employer to make over-award payments if he can pass on increases in prices directly to the consumer behind the shelter of an unnecessarily high tariff wall.

The availability of protection, although it may be unused, in some cases gives an opportunity for higher prices to be charged. I have mentioned frequently in this House that I hoped it would not be long before the Tariff Board would be able to get around to reviewing the protection on iron and steel. The iron and steel industry is an industry in which I believe there is unused protection. The protection is available, so the iron and steel industry in Australia is able to put up its prices secure in the knowledge that in doing so it will be protected from competition from imports.

Because of these 3 factors the action the Government is taking at this time is important. When all is said and done, hanging over us all is the real threat of inflation, a rise in prices. We have other economic problems, but none of them is nearly as important as the incipient threat of inflation. Not only does inflation affect the economy as a whole and the exporters in particular, but also and even more importantly, as history, our own bitter experience and other people's experience have taught us, inflation strikes at the very moral fibre of a country. Inflation destroys the little man. It enables the big man to get away with murder. It is the little man who pays for inflation. Of all the problems we face the chief one that hangs over us always is the threat of inflation. In my opinion we have here an opportunity to do something about it, although perhaps not on a particularly large scale. However, the opportunity now afforded us is important enough to be regarded with appreciation.

We have the ability to tackle this area of unused protection and to reduce it if this is thought wise, sound and possible. We can in this way do something to hold inflationary pressures in check.

I was glad to learn, as the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) announced in his statement, that the Government is to appoint 2 extra members to the Tariff Board to enable it to proceed with more speed with the very necessary extra duty of reviewing tariffs. I am very pleased about the extra appointments. I notice that almost everybody in the community is pleased. Certainly all the economic journalists in the country are pleased. I guess that all the economists also would be pleased. I am certain that all on our side of the House are pleased. I was mortified and sad when all the honourable member for Lalor could do was express his anger about this. All we heard from him was a petulant complaint. He said: 'It ought to have been done before', or 'It should have been done in a different way'. I am often sorry for the honourable member for Lalor. I know that he will not mind my saying this in a fatherly fashion. He is always such a sad man. There is something tragic about him. We very seldom see him smile. If I do see him smile I regard the phenomenon with some suspicion, thinking that it is probably due to wind. This is a measure that I thought he would have accepted with alacrity, saying: This is something I would like to see done'. Instead we get this mournful, unhappy approach to the subject - an approach that he seems to bring to many subjects.

There was one particular plea I wanted to make to the Government. Two extra members are to be appointed to the Tariff Board. It is quite clear that the Tariff Board has now, as it has in the past and will have in the future, a tremendously important part to play in our economic scene. There is an awareness in the country now that the Tariff Board has very great responsibilities to advise the Government effectively. It has to give the Government advice of the highest standard. This places on the Board a very high responsibility indeed. For that reason it is vital that people of the highest quality receive appointment to the Board.

I would like the Government to look at 2 things. One is the salary grading of the Board members. I am not particularly well informed in this area but I have an uneasy feeling that some of the best people who could fill these positions would find that the salary range would inhibit them from taking the job if it was offered to them. Likewise the committee appointed to review taxation will have a tremendous responsibility, and the best man one could hope to have on that committee is a person very skilled in the operation of the taxation laws, one of the operators of the present system. Such a person would find that the salary available to him in that job would be much smaller than he would be able to obtain in his business as, say, a skilled chartered accountant. It is probable, therefore, that we will not be able to induce people of the necessary quality io come forward. I am certain that the same applies to finding people to appoint to the Tariff Board. We need to realise that these people will have an immense responsibility on their shoulders, and for that reason we must have people of the highest quality. If it is necessary to pay more to attract suitable people, I hope that the Government will look favourably at doing so.

The other matter I would like the Government to look at is more important. Traditionally different members on the Tariff Board have represented particular sectors of the economy, some representing commerce, some representing export industries and some representing manufacturers. I do not think that having different sectors of industry represented is nearly as important as having on the Board people of the highest ability, experience, wisdom and courage. I hope that the Government in making the 2 proposed appointments and in making future appointments to the Board will discard the past practice of selecting people according to their background, according to what industry or sector of the economy they come from. I earnestly suggest to the Government that it have a careful look at the method by which it can induce people of the highest quality to accept appointments to the Tariff Board so that the Board will be able even better to fulfil the high responsibility which it has borne in the past. Obviously, with the proposed alteration in the duties of the Board, it will occupy an even more responsible position in the future.

I commend the Minister's statement. I think it was made at exactly the right time. I think we must recognise that controlling prices is one of our prime responsibilities, although an unpopular one. I think that the change foreshadowed by the Minister will help in discharging that responsibility.

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