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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1449

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) (Treasurer) - I move:

That the modification of the Senate be agreed to.

I do this for reasons that I now want to explain. We are so serious that this committee should be established that we do not want any hindrance to it. When the measure was before the House in its original form our argument about not having what are called public sector items considered was that public sector items are subject to parliamentary scrutiny in any case. After all, one cannot alter postal or telephone charges in this House unless they are subject to some degree of public examination. The same applies in the States. For example, the tariffs of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria or the Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria cannot be altered unless the proposals come before the State Parliament. It is a combination of the Opposition parties and the Democratic Labor Party in the Senate which has resulted in these amendments and the Government bows to the inevitable on occasions. The Government is serious about this matter. It believes that there is wide and very considerable concern about prices generally and something has to be done. This committee on prices is part of that mechanism and rather than hinder the passage of the motion the Government is prepared to accede to the request of the Senate.

The second matter that is requested by the Senate is that a member of the Australian Country Party in the Senate be added to the Committee. The Government has no objection to that. It alters the number on the Committee from 10 to 11 members and makes the representation from this House 6 and from the other place 5, and will give the Government 6 members to 5 from the other parties. I hope it is accepted that we are yielding slightly on our position. The Government takes the matter so seriously that it does not want to haggle again. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) moved in this place the same amendment as we are now accepting from the Senate, namely, that the public sector--

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. I did not move this amendment. ButI was aware of it.

Mr CREAN - He was aware of it in any case. What the Government is seeking to do is look at the price makers who are not at the moment subject to any kind of public scrutiny. That was the purpose of the Committee. If the Opposition chooses to suggest that public pricing which, after all, is public pricing and subject to certain kinds of scrutiny already, should be included in the terms of reference of the Committee, the Government will yield on the point of order to let the Committee be established because it regards the Committee as a central part of a definitive attack on prices. I do not want to dwell any more upon it. The Government regards this Committee as one of 3 parts of what it regards as the central mechanism for grappling with this very important problem. We have yet to bring in legislation in respect of the proposed prices justification tribunal. This joint committee on prices is to be a sounding board between the public and the Parliament and may result in action being taken following its recommendations.

I regard as the third part of the central mechanism the strengthening of consumer protection arrangements through co-operation between the States and Commonwealth. As honourable members know, there is to be a meeting of the State Premiers and the Federal Government about this central problem. It was originally called for 4th May but I understand that because of certain technical difficulties in the States it is now to be held a week later. The Government is prepared to accept the amendment moved in the Senate in order that there will be no hindrance to the establishment of this Committee. We are prepared to accept the second part of the request that there be an additional member from the Country Party in the Senate appointed to the Committee. This will mean that the constitution of the Committee will be 11 members instead of 10 with 6 from this House and 5 from the Senate. The Government will have 6 members on the Committee' and the Opposition will have 5. I hope that this again will be accepted as evidence of the Government's bona fides in taking this matter very seriously. It does not want politics; it wants action.

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