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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 803


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - The House has seldom heard the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) in better voice. It is a pity he was lacking a little in facts, logic and consistency. I think everybody would agree that the present rate of inflation is alarming. However, this is true not only in Australia; it is also almost a universal phenomenon. It is particularly worrying that inflation is getting to a point where it is becoming self-generating in that people are anticipating further price rises and, because they anticipate price rises, are ordering their affairs accordingly. So the nightmare becomes self-perpetuating. Remedial action is necessary on many fronts. This proposal, introduced by the Government, is one df them but not, I think, a very effective one. However it is something which may have some partial effect. Of course, even in the field of prices justification the effects of this committee will cover only a small part of the field. Nevertheless, in view of the serious situation which faces not only Australia but also most countries, even if this is ineffectual perhaps it should be considered. It represents, I suppose, some extension of what we would normally call a parliamentary function. It is not necessarily to be condemned for that reason but we must regard with caution extensions of parliamentary functions which can end up by being oppressive. The possibility of big brother looking over everybody's shoulder must be weighed against the problematical advantages which can come from a committee of this character.

The committee will be judged by its results. Its bona fides will be assessed by what it does and by the way in which it behaves. If some honourable members have misapprehensions it does not necessarily follow that those misapprehensions are well founded. The event will show that. This committee - I turn now to the terms of the motion before the House - will be entirely under Government control. The Government will appoint 6 of the 10 members and will also appoint the chairman. The chairman and the majority will determine procedures. The committee will have great powers, including power to compel attendance before it, to send for persons and papers and things of that character. It will have a large and perhaps even an unwieldy staff, but the fact that it will have staff will add to its powers. Its quorum is to be 5 members only. Since the Government will be appointing 6 of its members the committee will be able to form a quorum without the presence of members of the Opposition.

I am worried about the possible exercise of the power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 3 members without the precaution - and perhaps this will not happen in practice - of ensuring that the Opposition is represented on those subcommittees. It is possible - and again I say that this is not a certain result - that we shall have to be looking at the way in which this committee behaves. It is possible that it will develop into a kind of kangaroo court of the most objectionable character but this is not necessarily inherent in the motion before us. It is a possibility that one must consider and we will see the result. Whether these apprehensions are borne out or not will depend upon how the Committee behaves. Insofar as this is not set out in the motion the Committee, of course, will be acting under the Standing Orders of this House.

I am a little bit worried about 2 matters. Firstly, the possibility of secrecy and the possibility of abuse of the secrecy provisions. Secondly, the lack of any effective machinery for a minority report to be brought into this House. However, the implications of these things, as I say, will be more apparent as the committee develops. All of us on this side hope that it will be an effective committee and I am sure that on this side there will be every effort to make it an effective committee. I hope that on the Government side there will not be any tendency to abuse the great powers and authority of the Committee. This, I say, must wait on the event and I believe that the House should very carefully scrutinise the operations of this Committee as they proceed.

As has been stated, very rightly I think, by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), the matter before this Committee which is set out in paragraph 1 of the motion before us is very wide. The Committee will be able to range very widely. Here again I think that the

House should take note of what the Minister for Social Security said because he implied, and 1 think quite rightly, that such things as wages and wage conditions insofar as they affect prices would properly be before this Committee and it will, if the. words of the Minister mean anything, be able to investigate any price rises which are caused through wages or industrial conditions. I am not one of those who believe that all price rises are due to wages. I think that we have to preserve some sense of proportion in this regard and in looking at the position, particularly the Austraiian conditions but not exclusively Australian conditions, one would say that there ire 3 components in the price rise and I name them in descending order of magnitude. By far the greatest component is of course the rise in wages. It is not the only component but it outweighs the others. The second component is the industrial practice where restrictive practices, rolling strikes deliberately planned in some cases to sabotage production jnd to put prices up become effective and cause rising prices. But there are other factors coo. They are not as important as the 2 factors 1 have mentioned but they certainly are important and they certainly require to be considered. So if one can preserve a sense of proportion this Committee will be looking firstly, I think, at the cases where rises in wages have outstripped the rises in relevant productivity. Secondly, it will be looking at unjustified over-award payments which go to the root of higher costs and it will be looking at industrial practices, strikes, sabotage, unnecessary featherbedding and all that kind of thing.

Let me make my own position clear on this. 1 am in favour of high and increasing real wages. I am not one of those who want to keep wages down or even one of those who is always going around saying that wages are too high. Industrial efficiency is increasing. For a given input of labour we can produce more and more real goods and, as this is so, real wages should continue to rise. I am not speaking just in terms of money wages. Money wages have to take account both of the real productive situation and of the price situation which is properly before this Committee but real wages should be pushed up to the highest possible level and this has to be done in a way which does not involve an increase in prices which absorbs all the money wage increases given from time to time. So do not write me down and do not write this side of the House down as low wage advocates. I believe in the highest possible level of real wages and furthermore I believe that we should be thinking in terms of improving industrial conditions whether this be by shorter hours or more holidays or things of that character. I hope when there is more time to debate this to return to this subject in this House.

I am left in some doubt as to whether the terms of reference should be expanded and should be made more direct. It is quite true that if one takes what the Minister for Social Security said in this House a moment ago, all the matters that I have talked about will come properly within the scope of this Committee. Let me hope that there is good faith on the Government side. Let me hope that honourable members opposite mean what they say. It just seems to me that perhaps it would have been better if they had said what they meant and it would perhaps have been better if the protestations of the Minister for Social Security were in fact included in the draft terms of reference in paragraph 1 of this motion.

In regard to the amendment moved by the Opposition I do not see that there is any reason why the House should not carry it. It does not go beyond the type of thing that the Minister was talking about. It may be true that the House examines in financial measures at other times matters of public policy but there are times when the effect of public policy on prices should be examined concurrently with the other factors which affect them and this could be done without any impairment of the other financial procedures of this House or any derogation from its other authority. I am surprised that the Government finds in any way obnoxious the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. I would rather have thought that the Government would welcome it because it makes clearer what the Government professes to say through the mouth of the Minister for Social Security is the real impact and import of this motion before us. I should have liked to have said a great deal more in regard to the possibility of establishing a prices and wages policy. I believe that in the short term the establishment of this Committee is a reasonable proposal; in the long term it is self-defeating. Unhappily, Mr Speaker, you are about to say that my time has expired. Let rae anticipate that and now conclude my remarks.







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