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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 539

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Practically every cut-back in expenditure under the Budget has been at the expense of country communities. The Budget has turned out to be sectional and it is loaded with inconsistencies. Worst of all, it confirms the Government's acceptance of a high level of inflation. Primary industry in particular is to be hit by a tremendous drain financially to meet the whims of the Australian Labor Party. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of Government members, in both the Cabinet and the Caucus, are gloating over the provisions of- the Budget as they effect country people. Worse still, Labor Party members who represent country areas have proved to be ineffective and without influence in this Government. Country communities have been unfairly treated just at a time when some sections of rural industry are regaining their solvency after disastrous wool prices, low world market returns over a wide field, drought and flood and high costs.

On today's figures the overall position of primary industry may seem reasonable but debts, costs and future uncertainty cannot be denied. Yet even today in this House the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said that farmers were better off according to statistics. He has no real appreciation of the problems, the requirements and the complexities of a viable, productive and efficient primary industry in this country. If he did, the actions that he has taken in this Budget would not be perpetrated on country people. Likewise the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) would not be so brazen as to say, as he did last week, that he was not interested in the producer. He, of course, was referring directly to the primary producer. What is it that makes senior members of the Government so irresponsible? Is it socialist policies? Is it Labor Party philosophy or is it just old-fashioned sectional thinking? Why do they hit hardest at the little man in the country - the small farmer, the small business man in the country town and the less affluent sections of the community? Big cuts are to be made in the support to small farmers. Increased costs are being foisted on all farmers. Food prices have increased in the past few months and the effect of this Budget will be to force those costs even higher.

The Government has failed to encourage rural production at a time when it is obviously necessary and that is now, at this present time. Productive industries have been singled out and have been viciously disadvantaged in the Budget. The Government has recklessly slashed rural reconstruction funds, the butter and cheese bounty, free school milk, and taxation incentives for primary industry, and has imposed an export tax on meat to pay for health measures in the form of livestock testing for brucellosis and tuberculosis. It has imposed an export tax on meat to pay for inspection services. Why should this tax be imposed on the meat industry and not on other industries and community services which involve inspections and like precautions for both exporting and importing? Fuel will be dearer and country prices will rise by up to 7c a gallon. Telephone installation costs will rise and rentals will increase except in the cities. Postage concessions are being abolished and the main brunt of the resultant increases will fall on country communities. Aviation charges will rise and will force up air fares.

A wide range of indirect charges will hit the community with severe effects. On the other hand, city transport is to be given a big Commonwealth subvention. Yet the cost of metropolitan transport continues to fall heavily upon all taxpayers. Sydney, for example, will have a public transport deficit of more than $lm this year. However, the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and particularly the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) have said, in all seriousness, that until now country people have been given concessions at the expense of the city people and that those concessions should be brought to an end. What hypocrisy! They fail to recognise where the big money goes in the form of subentions and financial assistance to the cities and, of course, that is just how they want it. The truth is that the Government on its own admission is making the country resident pay. He will receive no concessions to compensate for remoteness, distance, market disadvantage and so on. This section of the taxpaying community also is expected, in fact forced, through taxation to pay for huge city losses on such things as government transport. In other words, country people are paying twice. The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) unabashedly takes advantage of big subventions for transport services in Canberra. Certainly he has increased other charges in Canberra, but he wants to see the dairy industry put out of business by margarine manufacturers. He wants to follow one course and one course only.

Is this Government an open government? Is this an honest Government? Is it a new breed of socialism? I leave it to the electors to decide, particularly the electors in Parramatta and in the New South Wales State seat of Murray. They will give their verdict in a few weeks time. Decentralisation has been ignored in this Budget except for allocations to the chosen area of Albury-Wodonga, and then only for the costs associated with land development. Nothing else has really been done. Everyone, including the people in the proposed growth centres, now faces increased charges in every direction. The previous Liberal-Country Party Government maintained that country people were entitled to concessions to encourage decentralisation. However, this Government has stripped down all concessions and has abandoned decentralisation. Country industry has been particularly hard hit and more is yet to come when the full brunt of transport costs and other increases take effect.

I turn now to the telephone and postal charge changes that have been announced in this. House. The Postmaster-General and the Government are guilty of gross deception in this field of government administration. Earlier this year .the Prime Minister announced the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the Australian Post Office. It was known at that time that the commission could not complete its task before the Budget. In these circumstances policy changes were not anticipated. The royal commission was charged with a duty of making wide-ranging recommendations to the Government. However, the Government has proceeded with complete disregard for the royal commission. It is now fair to ask the following questions: Did the Government engage in this deception because of union pressure since it announced the royal commission? Was it a deliberate slight to the royal commission? Did the Government have confidence in the commissioners it appointed, or have they been by-passed as being of no consequence? This is a serious aspect of what is contained in the Budget. The royal commission, one of the first of this kind appointed for many years, has been virtually disregarded and major policy changes have been made. The Budget decisions should be withdrawn insofar as they involve drastic policy changes in telephone charging structures and postage rates.

It should be the task of the royal commission to make recommendations on these matters. I challenge the Postmaster-General with his own words in this House. What has been done by this Government to provide a Treasury subvention for the Australian Post Office to assist it to meet the needs of the community, to meet the higher charges that it is involved in, and the concessions on the industrial side of the operation since it came into office? This Government has done nothing at all. Yet the Postmaster-General in this place said that the previous Liberal-Country Party Government had 23 years in which to adopt an approach on the lines of some form of Treasury subvention and it did not do it. He has been loud in his criticism of the previous Government but he has now had his chance and what is he doing about it? When will we hear his decision in this matter?

The real nature of the policy changes initiated by the Postmaster-General is, indeed, disturbing. Rentals for those who live in country cities and towns have increased from S37 to $55 for a single telephone service. What changes was made to city subscribers' rentals? Not the slightest change was made at all; city rentals remain the same. A very weak excuse was given by the Government. It said that the country subscriber now has almost the same access in the range of telephoning that he can undertake as has the city dweller. This is complete rubbish as we know full well. Anyone who picks up the Sydney telephone directory and looks at the range of calling available to a city subscriber can clearly see why there ought to be a higher charge for a city subscriber. I ask honourable members to consider telephone subscribers in Grafton, Orange, Wagga, Kempsey or any provincial centre which might have a continuous service and to compare their range of local calling with that of a city user. It is quite disproportionate and the rental alteration which this Budget will provide is nothing short of bush ranging so far as the country telephone user is concerned.

There are other propositions, all of which should have been matters for the royal commission to report upon to the Government and for the Government then to make its decisions. I instance the drastic change which is to occur in the provision of country telephone services. The previous Government introduced a system of providing 15 miles of telephone line free of charge to an applicant for a telephone service - not to be provided tomorrow or next week, but progressively over a period of years. Many services of this kind were established by the previous Government. Overnight, this Labor Government, not waiting for the royal commission to make its recommendation but, as an ad hoc decision, cuts back the 15 miles of free line to 5 miles. It has said to the prospective telephone user in the country: 'Henceforth you can pay from the 5 mile point to wherever it is you need to have your telephone'. When we check on what it will cost the ordinary country user who wants a telephone connected, we find it is a figure in excess of $500 a mile. Of course, there will be some concessions according to a vague indication given in this House - that the country user will have two or three years to pay off the cost. But of course the construction has to be undertaken by the Australian Post Office. He cannot escape the work being undertaken by the Post Office. Therefore, there is a fixed charge even if he has the equipment to do the job himself. Obviously he will not be permitted to do so because that would not suit the new socialist approach to the administration of the Post Office.

Let us look at the wide range of other services that have been drastically altered ki this Budget. I heard the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) bitterly criticising Country Party members this afternoon for an alleged comment which he apparently has imagined has been made by Country Party members, namely, that the cost of trunk line calls has been increased across the board by 20c. He went on to explain that the real proposition is a 20c impost on those people who book a trunk call through a trunk exchange rather than use the subscriber trunk dialling system. Can honourable members think of anything more designed to moderate the use of the telephone and to chase away business than the imposition of this 20c per call on the making of a trunk line call booked through a telephone exchange which has STD access? I cannot. I think it is just another indication of a crazy approach. Of course it is aimed at one thing - forcing people to use STD at all times. We know very well that a lot of people do not use STD facilities because they want accountability of telephone calls. When they get their telephone account they want some record of the calls that have been made or the duration of the calls. This applies particularly in small business where the trusted people of the business are not always under some form of supervision and the management quite rightly says: 'Book all calls through the trunk exchange and do not use STD.' Then there is a record of the calls.

In earlier times there was a charge of something like 20c for a monthly statement of trunk line telephone calls. That was fair enough. I think the charge might have been increased to 50c. But now we shall have a charge of 20c per call and on top of that no doubt a very heavy charge for a telephone statement at the end of each month or whatever is required for accountability of trunk line calls. Yet the honourable member for Cook came into this House this afternoon and bitterly criticised the Country Party for what he said was an attempt to mislead the public. Those who are misleading the public *re the senior members of this Government - those who have designed the Budget - and their supporters on the back bench. I am sure that the Australian public is very quickly waking up to this and as the real content of this Budget is unfolded over the next few weeks and months they will see where the deception lies.

I now turn to the major issue of this Budget - the question of inflation. This Budget has done nothing at all to contribute towards the reduction of inflation. In fact, the very provisions of the Budget will accentuate inflation. We now face an inflation level of 13 per cent a year. The Coombs report did not give any effective proposals in relation to inflation. It was a fizzer in that direction. But the Government has had at its disposal he Reserve Bank report and many Treasury recommendations - some of which have been made public - and there is obvious advice that it is dangerous for the Government to proceed without heeding the need to take steps to moderate inflation. But of course honourable members on the other side of the chamber now want to criticise the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) for his proposals in relation to a prices and incomes freeze.

I say just this about the criticism of the Leader of the Opposition on the simple score that he had not taken this kind of action when he was Treasurer and when he was in Government: The first thing that has to be realised is that the circumstances of the economy today are very different indeed. The Leader of the Opposition had the intestinal fortitude to bring down a Budget in this House 2 years ago to do one thing - to deal with inflation. He did that and to his credit it was effective. Certainly there was some loss of employment, there were some disabilities, but the Australian nation benefited from what was done at that time. Now it is too late. We have a new Budget. It has done nothing in this direction. Is there any alternative other than that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition? What hypocrisy it is for honourable members on the Government side to criticise him for not having taken this kind of action at an earlier time.

Of course, if we look at informed advice from such people as Mr Donovan, the economic adviser to W. D. Scott and Company - a very eminent company in Australia in terms of the researching of the economy, the problems which the country .faces and so on - we see that he has just issued a very startling report which indicates that because of the existing shortages of materials in the building industry and in other fields well known to most Australians, to the average small income earner who wants to build a home and to the average Australian who in his every day life requires some material to do some job or other, there is looming up a very ugly black market situation. This will not be solved by this Budget. In fact what will happen is some form of rationing, and we know what that means. It means that the community has to suffer and suffer badly.

So if we look at the whole spectrum, we find that this Budget has failed miserably to deal with .the real problems of the economy and with the requirements of this nation as they exist today both in the commercial world and in every other direction. I have referred specifically to the problems of primary industry. I conclude by expressing my full support for the amendment moved in .this House by the Leader of the Opposition in which he states that this House should express its disapproval of the Budget because it is economically irresponsible. He enunciated under 7 headings the reasons why he believes it is economically irresponsible. I have tried to put to the House some of the issues in the little time at my disposal, which I believe accord with what has been proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that the Australian community will see by the very existence of this motion, regardless of its outcome, the real meaning of this Budget.


Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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