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Tuesday, 11 September 1973
Page: 785

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - In participating in this debate on the Appropriation Bill one can follow 2 courses. One can discuss the Appropriation Bill and the Budget Speech or one can discuss the amendment that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). It is rather interesting to note that the amendment is such a mess of nonsense and contradictory terms that the majority of honourable members on both sides of this House have concentrated on the Budget, as well they might because of the trivial nature of the amendment. During the course of the debate a number of Opposition members have made accusations against the Government in regard to its conduct of foreign affairs. This shows the development or retention of their colonial and gunboat mentality. They suggest that because Australia has disagreed with the United States of America relationships with that country have been affected. They misunderstand the basic characteristic of the American people, which is a strong sense of independence. Whilst Americans might not like being disagreed with, they do respect a country that stands up for itself. They respect independence.

It has been suggested that the Government has severed ties with the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has shown that it believes its future is in the European Economic Community. Our relations with countries such as Canada and Mexico have been vastly improved. New relationships have been established with countries such as the People's Republic of China and the German Democratic Republic. These relationships face the realities of the world scene today. Indeed, the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and many other international associations are recognising those countries as this Government sensibly has done. The Government cannot stand accused of worsening relations. If the Opposition intends to rest its case on our disagreement with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, one can only ask whether, whilst one respects his high intellect and the vast program of public works he has carried out in Singapore, the Opposition would like to have his powers of gaoling political opponents without trial and without appeal for 3 years and locking them up again when they emerge after those 3 years, or of suppressing any newspaper that disagrees with him. Is this the sort of thing honourable members opposite support?

Members of the Opposition have said that this is a socialist Budget. As a socialist, I have examined it. I cannot find that it is a socialist Budget. It is certainly a social welfare Budget dealing with the quality of life and with a great deal of public expenditure. I regret that more notice has not been taken by honourable members opposite of the descriptions given by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) of the economic context in which the Budget has been presented and of the budgetary objectives. The favourable features spoken of, such as strongly rising demand, vigorous growth in output, full employment and external strength, have been overshadowed by the persistent cry of inflation. They are worth more than that. The Treasurer is to be congratulated on this his first Budget. He pointed out that the Budget was not and would not be the only instrument used to maintain a favourable economy in Australia. One can sympathise with him in the problems of the presence of increasing inflation and of combatting it. It is not a new phenomenon, as many honourable members have said.

Many factors other than the Budget are being used to damp down inflation. For instance, there have been the revaluations of the Australian currency, tariff reductions and the introduction of the Prices Justification Tribunal. One of the problems which are difficult to combat in these circumstances is the build-up of an inflationary psychology. The Leader of the Opposition and his myrmidons have certainly done much to build up this inflationary psychology in the community. With wide publicity and discussion, the community is saturated with a pervading inflationary expectation. The result is that the rate of inflation accelerates. Employees take appropriate steps to seek ever higher rates of wage increases with the view that such increases will compensate for expected inflation. Along with this, employers are more ready to grant increases because, with an atmosphere of expected inflation, they know that the prices they charge can readily be adjusted. So it snowballs and goes on in other areas.

One of the other great factors - this was mentioned by the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury) - is the overwhelming question of imported inflation. This reflects the situation in many other countries. The role of the United States in world trade has a great influence on many other countries. Australia seems to have been affected much more by the attitudes taken by the previous Government. I believe that appropriate steps have been taken in this field of imported inflation, in the form of the up-valuation of our currency and the tariff measures. There is no doubt that the Australian currency was under-valued. The question of incomes policy and wage and price controls has received a great deal of attention in this debate. The advantages and disadvantages have been revealed. One thing is certain, and the Government has made this quite clear: It is not prepared to accept unemployment as a necessary factor to control inflation. Where measures that would appear to lead to unemployment have had to be taken, compensatory measures have been instituted to supplement employment. The employment figures speak for themselves. If a purely incomes policy were to be instituted, as has been suggested by the Opposition side, unemployment inevitably would follow.

The Budget in its revenue producing section has relied in a major way on disguised expenditures- that is, revenue concessions. The Treasurer is to be congratulated in this area. When in Opposition he was consistent in his claims that this area was the one that needed the utmost attention. The honourable member for Wentworth at least agreed that when the Treasurer was in opposition he was honest and consistent in putting forward some of the rackets and ramps that he saw and felt should be corrected. He has, as Treasurer, wielded the broom with vigour and removed many of those loopholes, ramps and rackets which have provided tax dodges for many years and which had provided income to authors who wrote books about loopholes that people could use to dodge taxation. The Treasurer has to be congratulated for closing these loopholes. His action is entirely consistent with the attitudes he has taken in the past. We hear objection because the Treasurer has the temerity to suggest that the volume of beer should be correctly measured. Apparently being an honest man is a bad thing in this country!

Among other revenue producing measures he introduced was the impost on petrol. It is amazing to see throughout our country the number of signs on petrol stations advertising 8c off or 7c off. What a racket and ramp must be going on in the fixing of prices for petroleum products in Australia. Is it any wonder that this is seen as a fruitful area for raising revenue? Among the things that this Budget is about are the realities of Australian life. I would like to refer to an article called 'Australian Society: The Realities' which appeared in the July-August 1973 'Development News Digest', a publication of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid. It talks about the things which this Government has tried to correct, about the problem of the majority standard in our community. It states:

Thus it is said 'that Australia has perhaps the highest standard of living in the world because 70 per cent of the population live in 'owner-occupied dwellings'. But what about the other 30 per cent?

The fact of the matter is that housing is one of the greatest causes of poverty for this other 30 per cent and if you are one of the 30 per cent it is not much satisfaction to be told that 70 per cent of the people are all right. The article continues:

It is said that Australians have a high per capita income. This is an average; which means that there are plenty of people who have below average income.

At least 5 per cent of Australian families earn less than even the basic wage, whereas more than 5.000 Australians earn in excess of $20,000 a year - a combined income that would be greater than that of over 420,000 pensioners.

Is this what we want to see?

A supposed sign of universal affluence is that there is about one car for every 2 people in Australia, yet a Melbourne transportation survey discovered that 63.2 per cent of low income families did not own motor cars whereas 42.8 per cent of high income people owned at least two cars per family.

The majority standard creates a false impression of equality and universally good standard of living . . .

What the majority standard conceals is that there are definite extremes in Australian society.

We talk about Australia being a middle class society. One could accept that about 50 per cent are middle class, but there is the other 50 per cent. The article states that above the middle class are the people who have an excessive share of societal goods; below it is the working class which has some difficulty in keeping up with the accepted standard of living. Further below are the poor who have to struggle for the necessities of life. On a modest sociological estimate they comprise about 8 per cent of the population and number about 1 million people. There are some who have an extravagantly high standard and others who have a totally inadequate standard. The general attitude towards these 2 extremes seems to be extremely permissive or apathetic. It is suggested that in Australia we were developing an under-class, a section of society that is denied access to those goods, opportunities and services that even people in the working class enjoy. In Australia the likely members of such an under-class are mainly Aborigines, deserted wives and widows with young families, pensioners and large low income families. The article points out that the only 2 things they have in common are that they live in poverty and that they are such a desperate and neglected group that they lack the means, opportunities, political influence and popular support for effective action to change their disadvantaged situation.

As well as looking after the rest of the community this Budget has done something for those people too. One of the things that basically they suffer from is lack of opportunity in education. We see in the Budget a doubling of Federal money spent on education. It may be said that the abolition of fees for attending universities has not affected this group so much, but we should look at the way this money for educational assistance will be expended. To enable children in this group to attend the last 2 years of secondary school an allowance will be paid to low income families. In primary schools, according to the need of the areas, there will be proper library and other teaching facilities for these people. It is realised that this Government is looking across the wide scope of Australian people and is determined that an under-class shall not develop, even though the majority standard may be said to be so high. There are many other aspects of the educational part of the Budget which I trust one will have the opportunity to discuss later.

I want to make some passing remarks about the health field. It is with absolute disgust that I see the process of misrepresentation and dishonesty with regard to the Government's health scheme. The other day I went to collect a refund from the Hospitals Benefits Association of Victoria. When I was handed back my book and refund I was handed also a politically oriented health scheme pamphlet on which had been spent part of my contributions for the more than 22 years that I have belonged to this health fund. I resented that greatly because the pamphlet was full of dishonesty. I have heard the argument about the use of the computer in the new health scheme. The computer is to be used to keep records of usage throughout the community. As a member of a voluntary health insurance organisation my family unit has a number. It is stored away by the hospital benefits organisation which keeps on its records the number of claims I have made, the complaints that there have been in my family and the categories they come under. In fact the Hospital Benefits Association has just bought a computer to carry out a function in respect of which the Government is being criticised. I would rather trust the integrity of governments than private organisations like that.

They are supposed to have contributors on the boards controlling them, but they run their annual meetings in such a way that their contributors do not know that meetings are being held. If they think they are short of numbers they get the employees of the organisation to go to the annual meeting to elect their puppets to the Board.

Perhaps the Opposition wants to return to the use of the abacus in recording health finances. This is the way that members opposite talk. Does the Oppoosition not know that in developed countries computers make a real contribution not only to recording but also to the practice of medicine itself. It we are to have this smear, scare and feat campaign Australia will be denied the benefits that computers can give. Let some honourable members opposite and their medical friends who are indulging in such misrepresentation look through the work that has been done at the University of Missouri on the use of computers in the diagnosis and sorting out of complaints. They will find that by proper use of those computers there can be correctness and accuracy of diagnosis and that better treatment can be carried out very effectively. After all, in one city in America, by using a computer in its social welfare agency it was found that a woman who had been receiving social security payments for 15 years had never had a medical examination. It was only the computer that revealed this, not the human beings concerned. When she was examined she was found to have a minor complaint which was treated. She is now in full employment, looking after herself. So let us have done with this hogwash, this dreadful hypocricy that is going on in this field. Let us settle down and realise that people want decent health facilities and can get decent health facilities. Let us stop this fear and smear.

Another item which is mentioned in the Budget is the question of legal aid. It is mentioned with regard to the Aboriginal people. I am pleased to see that it is to be provided for Aboriginal people. My one regret is that at this stage the Government has not been able to go to the extent of offering legal aid to another class in the community, the under-privileged, those who are too poor to have proper legal representation in so many fields. I congratulate the Treasurer on his first and perhaps one of the most significant Budgets that this country has had.

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