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Tuesday, 29 August 1972
Page: 810


Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Immigration) - In a minute I will say something about the extraordinary statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and some other members of the Australian Labor Party about our currency. But before doing so I would like to refer to a speech made earlier this afternoon by one of the people who have been involved in this extraordinary affair. I refer to the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). This afternoon he chose to be highly critical of the Government's rural policy. He extolled to the House and to the country the latest rural policy of the Labor Party, which was recently unveiled with a great flourish - as if a rural policy which makes no mention of the Labor Party's attitude to the 35-hour week, no mention of the Labor Party's attitude to cost-push inflation and the part of wages in that, and no mention of the Labor Party's relationship with the city based unions and its domination by them can be described as a rural policy at all. However, I do not want to treat it on that basis.

I want to quote, not what I have said, but what somebody else has said about the document which the Labor Party unveiled recently and which is entitled 'A Rural Policy'. I quote not what I have said, because I would be described as a biased member of the Liberal Party, but what an eminent independent commentator on rural affairs, Mr Ronald Anderson who publishes the 'Primary Industry News Letter', had to say about the Labor Party's rural policy. He said:

Now we know where all those mice in Queensland come from! They are the offspring of the numerous mountains which have been labouring for so long in southern latitudes. One such mountain is the Australian Labor Party (perhaps an alp rather than a mountain?), which - after years of cogitation, heartburning, internal argument and public confusion - has produced a very mouselike 1972 Federal election rural policy brochure. The ALP document is the product of a highly-skilled group - highly-skilled at saying nothing. It says a large number of things no one would argue with, some things which are meaningless and virtually nothing new. The whole brochure is, in fact, a delicate balancing act - each positive move being carefully balanced (not too obviously) by a welldisguised qualification. Not that there are many positive moves, apart from the establishment of a Federal Rural Commission to present to the Commonwealth Government 'factual recommendations designed to solve problems in rural industries'. Not many people would argue with that, except those farmer organisations which might see their present behind-the-scenes role being usurped. One ALP phrase which could scare the pants off some farmer leaders is reference to 'preservation of the nucleus of primary industry'.

That is the Labor Party's policy. I must say that the phrase 'preservation of the nucleus of primary industry' scares the pants off me too. Mr Anderson continued:

But of course the ALP balances the seesaw by saying 'selective subsidies, bounties and embargoes (the Merino embargo?) will continue to be an integral part of Labor's economic policies'. Of course these policies will bc administered 'with due regard to economic principles', but then again it also believes that export bounties may be paid on farm products to 'offset cost disabilities caused by tariffs' and promises to 'maintain the economic viability of primary industry'. AH told, the ALP rural policy is so vague that it is meaningless. lt wallows in the use of words like assist, review, recognises, will strengthen, will provide incentives, will encourage and will initiate evaluation ... all so much verbal garbage when one thinks about it. The specific sections dealing with wool, wheat, dairying, meat and sugar offer nothing new or significant at all. The so-called promises are so vague, or are of things which already exist (or are about to do so), that they provide nothing but literary window-dressing. The 'policy' bears the marks of Labor's 'Big Three' rural men - Patterson, Grassby and Whan - but doesn't seem to be any better as a result. All told it is painfully disappointing and PIN can't imagine ANY party winning uncommitted rural votes on the strength of this sort of wishy washy stuff.

I did not say that. That is what was said by one of Australia's most respected independent commentators on rural industries about the Labor Party's rural policy which the honourable member for Riverina extolled this afternoon.

In this Budget, as the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) said, the Government has gone to the borders - not beyond the borders - of economic responsibility. In other words, it has a responsible economic prescription for the economy as it is at the present time. Everything implied in the Opposition's amendment would push the Budget beyond the border and into economic irresponsibility. What is true of the Opposition's approach to the Budget is equally true of its attitude to another vital part of economic policy making, namely, the level of the currency. We cannot say that we have not been warned. The Leader of the Opposition has given us all - members on both sides of the House and the electors of this nation - due notice that he aspires to be the first professed socialist on planet Earth to rule by divine right. Never mind the well founded views of his Party colleagues. Never mind the best interests, fiscal or humanitarian, of the people of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition has given us all notice that as soon as he is given the opportunity he will upvalue the Australian dollar. Once again we see him, a grotesque apparition with his Achilles heel in his mouth, determined at all costs to justify such a stance. His caucus colleagues nave entreated him to acknowledge the error of his ways but although it may well cost them the next election as indeed it should, if they insist on giving front bench space to such a Leader it is clear that he will continue to speak and act unilaterally whatever it costs them so long as his leadership life shall last. Greater love hath no man than this: That he would lay down his friends for his life. Once again, breathing heavily from on high, the Leader of the Opposition has spoken and imperiously-


Mr Kennedy - Did you write this?


Dr FORBES - He has stilled all voices around him, including that of the honourable member for Bendigo. The dollar will be upvalued. Indeed, as it has been said of another socialist with delusions of grandeur: There but for the grace of God goes God'.

Even if subsequent events determine that the dollar is not to be upvalued, even if my faith in the inherent, basic good sense of the Australian electorate is to be justified by the decision in the near future that it does not want to be governed by the fastest lip in the West and it transpires that the

Leader of the Opposition never gets the opportunity to pave his way with our currency, be will still have done this nation a very considerable disservice in the meantime. The only virtue in all this is that once again the nation has been reminded - the reminder is most timely coming as it does on the eve of an election - that if by any horrible quirk of fate the Leader of the Opposition should attain the Prime Ministership, we can expect to be governed with a degree of responsibility roughly equivalent to that of a maddened bull in a china shop. 1 find no quarrel with the Leader of the Opposition holding the opinion that the Australian dollar is undervalued. It is a theory advanced by some very clever people at the Reserve Bank and elsewhere. But what I do find inexcusable and what I do insist makes him unfit to hold high public office is the manner of expression of that opinion. The utterly appalling thing is that he should so readily, so mindlessly transpose his opinion into a public statement of instant policy - a recommendation that the dollar should be upvalued and notice to the nation that as leader of the government of Australia he would upvalue it.

Time and again the Leader of the Opposition has displayed the trait in his character which compels him to put his foot in his mouth. This is the man who in recent months has been so free with his moralistic lectures - we have all heard them in this House - on the propriety of the actions of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and other senior Ministers on this side of the House. We have been made to believe that he, the Leader of the Opposition, is the repository of the proprietal virtues developed under the British system of parliamentary government. The instances on which he has adopted his high moral tone have been trivial to say the least. Yet he himself has fallen on his face in a matter where the conventions are significant, rigid, and to my knowledge have never been questioned. This is rightly so because nothing can be more fundamental to the life of a nation than the stability and the strength of its currency.

Opposition leaders in banana republics may speculate about the future of their currency; Opposition leaders in countries brought up under the conventions of British parliamentary government should not and, except where one like the honourable gentleman emerges with the political morals of an alley cat, they do not. Repeatedly he has caused his parliamentary colleagues and the people of this nation considerable embarrassment both at home and abroad. But the dangers to us all of his intransigence, of the demands of his superego, will be increased enormously should he be permitted to lead an alternative government. It is not as though in this particular case he did not have the advantage of a recent precedent. As the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) pointed out, he could not have failed to be aware of the example of the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Healey, who, in a parallel situation in Britain, suddenly declared that the pound sterling should be devalued. The expression of this opinion set up a disastrous chain reaction which disrupted so many markets for British goods that ultimately Britain was left with no real alternative but to float its currency.

Ever anxious to grab a headline and to divert attention from the embarrassing position in which his Leader had placed him, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) has made the quite untrue statement that the Treasurer has been discussing the revaluation of the Australia1! dollar with the representatives of overseas governments. He has not provided a shred of evidence - although he had the opportunity to do so this afternoon - for this statement, which the Treasurer has denied. Until he does we must assume that it is a figment of imagination designed to grab a headline. This is not the first time that the honourable gentleman has done this. Recently he made a statement about South American migrant girls, which on investigation proved to be completely unfounded in every single particular. In that case all that he did was to cause a great deal of embarrassment and suffering to his innocent victims. In this case he has helped to add fuel to the fire of doubt started by his Leader surrounding the Australian currency, with all the consequences which flow from it.

Yet despite all this, the ego of the Leader of the Opposition is of such gargantuan proportions that he will not recant, though it may cost us all very dearly indeed. While his Leader was busy proclaiming on television last Thursday his resolve to upvalue the dollar the shadow

Minister for Primary Industry, his front bench colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), was busy warning the rural community of what a Labor government led by the honourable gentleman has in store for it. Quite clearly and in essence, the statement of the Leader of the Opposition means that he has given farmers due notice that the alternative government will reduce their incomes at the first opportunity. He has given notice that by upvaluing our currency he will ensure that the capacities of all our export industries will be reduced, while competition which our domestic industries have with imports will become even more intense.

In a situation in which we have a number of rural problems, where there is a degree of stagnation in secondary industry and where export mining industries are finding it difficult to get prices which will make their operations profitable, the Leader of the Opposition chooses to make a statement which runs completely contrary to a Budget aimed at getting those stagnant areas of the economy moving again. He has thrown confusion into industry; he has undermined confidence at a time when it is vital to build up confidence. Theoretically, the Reserve Bank may be right. We can all have opinions about that. Perhaps an argument could be advanced to support a proposition that the Australian dollar is undervalued, but the Reserve Bank never has had and never will have to make a decision in relation to such an opinion. That is the job of the Government. That being the case, the Government cannot permit itself the luxury of speculating on what should or should not happen to the currency. The same applies with equal force to the Leader of the Opposition in the period immediately prior to an election. The Leader of the Opposition already has made the decision for the alternative government. As I have said, we cannot say that we have not been warned of both the nature of the man who aspires to lead us and the immediate effects of the decisions he has taken.







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