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Thursday, 18 February 1971

Senator MARRIOTT (Tasmania) - In rising to speak and to oppose the motion that we adjourn and sit 5 minutes earlier than usual next Tuesday so that we can discuss now a matter of urgency, I want to correct an error which I believe Senator Mulvihill made in his haste to get through his well prepared speech. The saving of $7Sm by the Commonwealth in the public sector will be made, according to my understanding, between now and 30th June next, -not between now and next August when a budget may or may not be introduced.

I refer, as Senator Gair did, to the fact that because of the form of the motion before the Chair we have been forced into a debate on the economy of the nation in which back benchers are allowed only a quarter of an hour in which to make their contribution. It has been stated, in reply to that complaint, that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) took only 10 minutes to speak to the House of Representatives on the economy. But let us be fair. The Prime Minister had previously addressed the nation on the economy on television and then, when the Parliament met, he made a statement on the action that the Cabinet had decided to take in the public sector of the economy to fight inflation. It Was never suggested that his statement to the Parliament on that evening would be a state of the nation message or a discourse on the nation's economy. It was simply a spelling out of the action; which Cabinet had decided to take and an estimation of the money which would be saved in the public sector between now and the end of the financial year:

Either by a slip of the tongue or by being too impetuous Senator Murphy took the adjournment of the debate on the Prime Minister's statement by moving that the Senate take note of the paper. By doing so he automatically put the Prime Minister's statement on the notice paper under General Business where it now stands as No. 13 on the list. If he had not been so quick I am given to understand on good authority that the Minister would have moved that the paper be noted, Senator Murphy could have taken the adjournment of the debate and the statement then would have gone on the notice paper under Government Business and would have been called on. We then could have had a full debate with more time to prepare our remarks and more time to present them. So let no-one turn his criticism to the Prime Minister or to the Government in that regard. I do not approach this subject as an economist or as one who understands much about the intricacies of international finance. However I approach it with a feeling of absolute confidence. The question we are being asked today is: 'Do we attempt to stem the tide of inflation?' The Government has said: 'Yes, we will*. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the Government is taking action in this regard and that it is the responsibility of other elements in the Australian community - that includes the State governments - also to take action. The problem is what to do to stop or reduce inflation'. It has been accepted that in a developing country a little inflation is healthy but how to steady it is the problem. In his opening remarks the Prime Minister laid the blame, at least partly, on the action of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in increasing wages by 6 per cent. I have moved about Tasmania and parts of the Commonwealth on committee work since that decision was handed down and from talking to business people, housewives and others who have been hurt by inflation I have got the idea that the people of Australia feel that the across the board increase of 6 per cent was the great spur to inflation. I pose this question: Would it not be fairer to grant a wage increase of $X a week rather than a percentage increase across the board? Surely wage increases are designed to help meet the increased cost of living and this could best have been done by granting to the blue collar worker, the white collar worker, the professional man and the academic a flat increase of $X a week.

Senator Little - Are you advocating a return to cost of living adjustments?

Senator MARRIOTT - To that I give the direct answer, yes. One of the greatest problems facing this country is created by our system of wage fixation. If the LiberalCountry Party governments of the past 21 years have failed in any important regard I believe it has been in not getting the best brains in this country to work to introduce a new system of wage fixation. As I understand the situation our judges, legal men of high reputation, sit in judgment and hear legal advocacy for and against this and that. After the decisions are announced it is stated that wage tribunals will sit and it is anticipated that on a certain date they will agree to the flow-on for the wage groups that they administer, whether Federal or State. Then it is said that within the State and Commonwealth public services the appropriate wage fixing bodies have met and have come to a decision to support the wage or salary increase, which in this case is 6 per cent. Once the judges of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission have given their decision - not a suggestion or recommendation to the Government or the Parliament - that wages will rise as from a certain date, the increase flows on. I know of no power in Australia to stop that flow-on.

If the ordinary wage earners who are governed by the Arbitration Commission receive increases, I see no reason why the salaries and wages of other workers should not also be examined. If we had the time to examine the present salary of a top Commonwealth or State public servant as compared with his salary 2 years ago we would discover one reason for inflation in this country. I believe a better wage fixing system is necessary, but my memory is not so short that I do not recall as a youth seeing the Bruce-Page Government swept out of office because it planned to abolish the Arbitration Court.

It has been said today, and for the purpose of my speech I repeat it now, that in Australia too much is chasing too little. That is my view. Our work force is fully employed. I have checked today on employment figures. In the last 2 years, except in December, seldom have more than between 10,000 and 12,000 people been registered for employment This situation has caused private enterprise in this country, so rapidly developing and rich in resources, to pay over-award wages. When private enterprise pays over-award wages governments must try to match those payments in order to retain their employees. Otherwise they will be criticised on the ground that they are making their public servants slaves while in private enterprise higher wages could be earned.

AH honourable senators have had letters from associations of professional engineers and salaried and professional officers throughout the Commonwealth. Great pressure has been applied for wage and salary increases because there is a shortage of specialists in the work force today for all forms of specialised employment. I am glad to see that the Prime Minister has placed restraint on overtime in the Public Service. It has been said that Australia has a 2 pay packet economy. I believe something has to be done to try to alter that as an accepted fact of life. I think it is wrong for the health and betterment of the country and I will be saying more on that point in connection with another subject in which I am vitally interested. It is wrong that 2 pay packets should be needed in every house for our people to achieve a decent standard of living. It is a problem that governments and private enterprise must face. We parliamentarians should direct our thoughts towards finding a cure, instead of merely being critical of that situation.

The Commonwealth Government is to save $75m. It has not ruled that the States are to receive and to spend less. It has set an example and already several State Premiers have said that they are joining in this part of the crusade. I hope that private enterprise also will play its part. We are an affluent nation but there are too many poor people amongst us. In our affluence we have become an extravagant nation. I will give 2 examples of what I term extravagance which have partly contributed to inflation. Back benchers like myself sometimes must travel in airways buses. I will guarantee that one never sees more than 10 or 15 people travelling in those buses, at 50c a ticket. But on the aircraft one finds more than 100 passengers, which means that about eighty of them have travelled to the airport by private cars or taxis.

I remind honourable senators that when one stands on a street corner to catch public transport in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart - the only cities I have visited recently - at peak periods when people are travelling to work the buses are half full while about 200 cars pass, each containing one or two people. This is extravagance and has partly contributed towards inflation in this country. There is waste in Parliament House. These are little things, but I believe we must start with little things in this crusade to cut out waste and to cut down expenses, particularly in the government sector. Government spending is never productive, other than in making laws and restrictions and collecting taxation. Public servants in authority must see that as much waste as possible is eliminated. The time should be gone of spending to match the estimates. Senator Gair as a State Premier is familiar with the situation in which a department has asked for $X thousand and finds at the end of May that it has spent $2,000 less than its estimate. It immediately gets busy finding ways to spend that sum of $2,000 before 30th June because it fears that its appropriation will be cut next year and its empire will not be so wealthy. There is a shocking waste of money in May and June of each year in State and Federal government departments. No-one can properly deny that that is true of government instrumentalities. I do not want to attack any particular body but I ask one question about the Reserve Bank of Australia: How many thousands of dollars is it spending on buildings that are completely unproductive?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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