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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2301

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - The speeches made on this Bill by honourable members opposite really represent very lonely words in an intellectual desert. Honourable members opposite have made a number of suggestions about what should be done to cure inflation, yet every suggestion they have made has been tried somewhere else in the world without success. The suggestions have been tried in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada. Each one of those plans, when adopted in those countries, has caused hardship to groups of individuals, and in each case has failed to achieve the desired result. The establishment of this Prices Justification Tribunal will be welcomed universally by those who rely on wages, salaries or low and middle fixed incomes. There is no com fort in this Bill for those who utilise their power and position to gain wealth for themselves by exploiting others who are unable to defend themselves from the erosion and attack of inflation.

Unregulated and spiralling prices cause severe hardship to most Australian citizens. Inflation attacks all sections, but the effect certainly is not equal. Farmers are affected in quite a different way from housewives. Wage and salary earners have to convince somebody else that their rates of wages or salaries should be increased. They are forced to convince either their employers or, alternatively, an independent arbitral tribunal that some wage or salary increase is justified. If they fail to convince the company or the employing authority of the justification of their claims, they do not gain an increase, unless in turn they are able to establish the justice of their claims to the arbitral tribunal concerned. Persons who rely on superannuation payments, government pensions or social service payments are almost defenceless. The aged, sick and infirm are the worst affected in our society. They have little power. They generally are unable to exercise the physical capacity to defend themselves against the effects of inflation. They usually suffer the most, whereas ethical considerations demand that they should have the greatest protection.

Not less than one-third of all wage and salary earners in Australia are totally dependent on the awards made by arbitral tribunals for their level of income. These are the employees who receive no over-award payments. All employees of the Commonwealth, State and local governments and various government authorities are paid only the award minimum wage. For these employees the minimum wage fixed by arbitral tribunals is also the maximum wage. Employees who are engaged in areas of employment outside the major cities also are entirely dependent on award wages as their maximum rate. Even in cases where the employees have bargaining strength, extra payments that may be negotiated on their behalf are related directly to the appropriate award rate. It follows, therefore, that practically all wage and salary earners are required to justify to some appropriate body or tribunal any claims they may have for an increase in the financial reward for their services.

This is certainly not the case in regard to the fixing of the prices of goods and services. When a wage increase is awarded it is only as a result of long discussion and argument and, in some cases, very close and careful consideration. In my view there is absolutely no doubt and there can be no argument that many price increases are unjustified. For example, if one were to look at rents one would see a startling position. The consumer price index figures supplied by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics show that rent for privately owned dwellings in Australia has increased by 49 per cent since 1967. In 6 years rent has increased by this extravagant amount. Pensioners, young married people and all who have not the capital resources to provide a personally owned home are the victims. To test whether this increase is within the bounds of reasonableness one should make a comparison with the increase which has occurred in the rent for government owned dwellings. Over the same period the increase in rent for government owned houses was 29 per cent. So we see that rent for privately owned houses has increased substantially faster than rent for government owned dwellings.

One must also take into account for very careful consideration, when looking at prices generally as a cause of inflation, the fact that there is extensive collusion in the fixing of prices. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament, Mr Sydney D. Einfeld, has made a particular study of this matter. Over recent years he has constantly exposed substantial evidence of collusion, but it has fallen on the deaf ears of governments which stand in the place of privilege. Governments in New South Wales have been concerned with the preservation of privilege rather than with the preservation or even the establishment of consumer protection. In this House the apostles of privilege presently occupy the Opposition benches. Their effort in this debate has been sufficient to ensure that they will stay there for a long time to come. Their idea of correcting inflation is to kick the wage and salary earner, and to kick him hard. To cut down costs they say: 'Suppress wages; suppress salaries. Do not affect the prices. Whatever else is done, do not look at the other elements of inflation. Do not consider interest rates. Do not consider over-capitalisation. Just leave aside all these things.' They just trot out the hackneyed phrases. They just trot out-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The time allotted for all stages of the Bill has expired.

Bill read a second time.

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