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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2561

Mr MCVEIGH (Darling Downs) - Tonight I participate in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House to bring to the notice of the Ministers concerned what some people refer to as a scandal. I refer to the failure of the people and companies concerned to pass on to the Australian consumer the savings that should have resulted in imports following the unilateral decision of the 3-man band in December to appreciate the Australian dollar and the decision not to follow that same dollar down in February. One need not be a tough minded critic nor a perceptive analyst to obtain figures - reliable ones - which show that less than one-third of the estimated reduction in import prices following revaluation is being passed on to the Australian consumer.

Just as we hear repeated as often as the clock strikes the statement that costs fall heaviest on certain sections, it is beyond doubt, because of the heavy capital commitment in imported machinery, that the primary producing sector is the one most savagely hurt in this circumstance. Figures show that $400m a year is being pocketed by overseas suppliers and local importers not for services rendered and goods supplied but as extra profit. One can ask with impunity the question: Did the Labor Government revalue just to make profits for currency speculators and foreign manufaturers at the expense of Australian exporters? Newspapers published at the time of the currency alignments decisions contained many statements which have since been proved to be mere platitudes, such as: 'Industries hit by the effects of revaluation will get Federal compensation', "The Federal Government will give cash compensation to industries hit by the revaluation of the Australian dollar', and Treasurer said today the Government would not depart from the principles of compensation adopted by previous governments'. The most unguarded statement of the year by the Treasurer (Mr Crean), as reported in the 'Melbourne Observer' of 24 December 1972, was as follows:

You could say that the announcement the Prime Minister made this morning contained the voice of Whitlam and the hand of Crean.

Some 5 months later - months of evading the issue and begging the question; months when almost no decision has been made on these matters - one can state unequivocally that the voice is silent and the hand is paralysed. The hand is incapable of turning on the tap which the Treasurer referred to in a humourous way

In this House on one occasion. We have been Waiting for 5 months for the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, his Deputy and the Treasurer to justify their precocious behaviour to the public of this country. Those gentlemen, in their rather infamous statements of December and January last, which sought to outflank the forces of the mining and rural sectors before they could organise, have had ample opportunity to give effect to what must now go down as being meaningless words - words uttered without any depth of feeling or sincerity. No compensation has been granted to the Australian grain industry. Up to this stage the Press has carried no announcement of a favourable decision on compensation of the sorghum growers of Queensland and the wheat growers of Australia. The Australian Wheat Board has received no reply to its claim in respect of losses, nor has it received permission to cover against revaluation losses pertaining to non-payment on a given date.

However, tonight I want to make a plea on the other sector - the negative side of the revaluation issue peddled so assiduously by the Government at the time of the currency re-alignment. Its thinking was that the price of Australia's imports would fall; that imports should be cheaper not only to the extent of the revaluation but also to the extent that tariffs and sales taxes calculated on percentages also would be less. The result should be a lessening in the rate of increase in the prices of competing Australian goods, which also would tend to increase real incomes - a factor the Government should try to ensure is reflected in reduced wage claims. How wrong the theoreticians were - theoreticians who, as was stated earlier today in this chamber, are completely devoid of practical experience! Prices are continually going up and up. One of the few imports that has fallen in price is tea - by 3c a lb. Wages, encouraged by a government which seems, however, to be very chastened by the happenings in Victoria on Saturday last, are the highest on record, resulting in increases in the prices of beef and other essential foodstuffs. But no wholesale compensation has been paid to the rural sector - a sector which is in no position to stand any arbitrary reduction in its selling prices. That was confirmed by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in its economic survey of the wheat growing industry for the 3 years 1969-70 to 1971-72. Australian wheat growers averaged a return of only 4.1 per cent on capital employed after allowing for a very low wage of $42 a week for the farmer's own labour - a labour which is skilled and responsible.

Where are the responsible Ministers in this issue? They lambast us with International Labour Organisation principles and average wages; but where are they when it comes to dispensing justice to a section of the community which is subject to tremendous pressure from economy, science, philosophy and now a Government which is not concerned with its plight? Talk is cheap; action negligible. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) said in the Senate the other night in reply to a question concerning the fact that imports have not decreased in price: This matter does cause concern'. But what has he done about it? What has he done about the financial plight of the people who are receiving less than half the accepted commercial return on their capital and less than the minimum industrial wage for their labour. To reduce their income to half of this by arbitrary government action is totally unjustified. It is unfair to the individual farmer and certainly not in the national interest of maintaining a reasonably prosperous and expanding grain growing industry.

Very few items of imported equipment have fallen in price and overseas freight rates have steadily escalated. It is clear that the overseas suppliers of goods and services to Australia and the local importers of these goods are taking as extra profit practically the whole amount that should have reached Australian producers and consumers in the form of lower prices. In some instances where a slight reduction has been made purchasers have found that their trade-in values have decreased by a corresponding amount. They have moved in sympathy with each other. But the savings are not going to where they should be going.

This is a clear case which, due to the inaction of the Government, should be referred forthwith to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices for investigation and action. The losses are difficult to assess because they are so multitudinous. A side issue as far as the sorghum growers of Queensland is concerned is the loss of dispatch money on export cargoes of sorghum. Due to efficiency of operations and planning by practical men on the farmer organisations and not the theoreticians so ardently advocated by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan), dispatch money on 4 cargoes of sorghum, due to the changing rates of exchange of the Australian dollar versus the American dollar, has fallen from $21,722 to $18,276. I submit that this amount should be paid forthwith to the Queensland Graingrowers Association. This is a small amount when compared with the loss against sales, but nevertheless a loss which has been forced on to the growers. We will not accept a government which seeks to avoid legitimate challenge and controversy. Disinterest is not the hallmark of toughness. What we want is tough-mindedness; that is, the willingness and ability to look facts in the face, however bitter they may be, to appraise them at their worth and to act calmly, judiciously and determinedly.

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