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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 897

Mr KING (Wimmera) - In a debate such as this it is rather interesting to hear the comments from various speakers particularly on the Government side of the chamber. I was rather amazed a few minutes ago when I heard the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) say - I will try to quote him accurately - that the question of country telephone subscribers not being able to have access to the same number of local subscribers as subscribers in metropolitan areas would not stand up to close examination. I say to the honourable member that he should have a look at the financial statement which has been put out by the Postmaster-General's Department. I want to say something to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) who appears to be about to leave the House. Having criticised the honourable member for Shortland I will just make brief reference to something on the credit side. I want to pay a tribute to the Deputy Prime Minister for his response to a request made this morning by my colleague for aid for those people who are suffering from flood damage in northern Victoria at this time. I will not go into much detail because I feel that there has been a little too much adverse publicity given to this problem at the present time but I do want to say to the Deputy Prime Minister on behalf of my colleagues and myself: Many thanks for your immediate attention to this all-important matter.

Mr Kelly - The Minister may now leave the House.

Mr KING - In reply to my friend the honourable member for Wakefield I point out that there are one or two other issues in the Budget papers on which I should also compliment the Deputy Prime Minister. I know as many members in this House know his great interest in the field of repatriation. I am glad to see that he has made some strong moves in this field. However, if I get the opportunity there are a few points I would like to draw his attention to that perhaps may not be quite so favourable as the ones in the Budget.

Since Federation many Budgets have been introduced into this House. There have been popular budgets and unpopular budgets. I congratulate the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on reaching his goal of introducing the first Labor budget for many years. But judging by the comments of a number of people, not only people in this place but outside it, I wonder whether this might be a case of one budget and only one budget. I hope my remarks are not too severe on him. It might be one of very few Labor budgets. If the future were based entirely on this Budget then I am sure that it would be Labor's one and only budget. But as we all appreciate a government must displace its Treasurer or the people may displace the government We may not get the opportunity to displace the Government as early as many of us would like. However, this Budget will make the files of history, not because of its good features but because of the very reverse. This Budget is certainly a very, very frightening one. The people are frightened. They do not know what is going to happen next. As somebody mentioned a few minutes ago, the Treasurer referred to the fact that Australia was to have a special export levy of one cent on meat.


Mr KING - We were to have a levy of one cent per lb, on export meat. But what has the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) done less than 2i weeks after that announcement? The Minister has introduced a Bill to impose a levy of not one cent but of 1.6c. Where is this country going? Who is running the country? It is an old custom that an opposition never amends a Budget because of the financial measures it contains. Where do we now stand as an opposition? One minute the Government says there will be a levy of one cent and then a little later it says it will be 1.6c. I am reminded of the headline I read a few minutes ago in the 'Daily Mirror* of today's date. It read: 'Canberra May Get That Airport.' There is nothing very significant about that until one reads on and sees that the article is from Steve Dunleavy in New York. Who is running the country, New York or Australia? This Government cannot even decide where we are to have an airport. I had better get back to my notes otherwise I will run out of time in this debate.

Mr O'KEEFE (PATERSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the honourable member for Riverina in regard to action taken on the wine industry?

Mr KING - I could go on and talk about the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) or, to give him his full title, the

Minister for Immigration, because he jumps side to side, from the back to the front or any way at all over fences. He makes numerous statements and now nobody seems to know what is the present immigration policy of this country. I am reminded of an occasion - and you Mr Deputy Speaker will possibly recall it - when we were privileged to be in New Guinea and we were trying to get some news but all we could get was what was being broadcast in the local language. I recall this occasion very clearly. The chap broadcasting the news said:

The Australian Minister for Immigration, he now visit one of the islands-

Perhaps it was Singapore or the Philippines - and him talkum plenty.

I think there are plenty of people who would agree with that. The Minister does talk plenty and no one knows exactly what he means. This Government has been boasting for some time together with many of its supporters on the question of decentralisation but all the moves in this Budget will have a reverse effect. They will kill decentralisation at every turn. There is no need for me to spell out in detail all the moves. The point is that the Government is killing free flow. It is killing free enterprise. No country can expect to decentralise if it kills free enterprise. The whole basis of this Budget appears to me to be one of control from Canberra. If this Government can get that control then of course that will be the stone end of any decentralisation.

I was interested in a report which appeared in the 'Australian' of today's date. The headlines read: 'Job switch orders for 10,000 public servants'. They further state: 'Cabinet approves major clean-up'. The article states that the Government is only going to transfer these people. What is the good of doing that? When I look at some of the names of the departments which are mentioned I start to wonder. I start to wonder whether this will be another belt to the rural areas. The article states that public servants in the Departments of Defence, Primary Industry, Immigration, Housing, the Taxation Office and Repatriation will be transferred to new jobs. It says that their former work sections will be scaled down or abolished. I wonder what all that means. I do not know what it means. All I know is that the Government is not reducing the numbers so costs will not be reduced.

What has happened as a result of major decisions that have taken place in recent times?

I refer to the tariff cuts and the revaluation of our currency. These moves cut right across moves that have been made in recent times in order to try to build up decentralised areas. I was interested to note that the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) also criticised the increased rate of excise on fuel. What will this increase do? It will increase the cost of fuel but it will not cut inflation. It will increase costs and ruin anything that assists regional development. The stock exchanges have collapsed. What is more, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) brushed this off yesterday on the grounds that it was a case of the people leaving the stock exchanges because Government bonds were more attractive. How weak can you get? The Treasurer has appealed to people to hang on to their shares. Notwithstanding this the Prime Minister says that Government bonds are more attractive. Of course they would be if the Government is to put up the interest rate.

Where does the Minister for Immigration stand now? I thought I remembered reading something about large quantities of money being made available to primary producers and home owners at 3 per cent or thereabouts.

Mr Corbett - It was $500m at 3 per cent.

Mr KING - Is that right? I am informed that $500m at 3 per cent was promised. Where has this gone? This morning's newspapers indicate that the rate of interest on housing loans could even reach 11 per cent. What a ridiculous situation we have. I do not have time to quote all of the newspaper reports that I have with me. One is headed: 'Go forward with Mr Grassby'. All right, we go forward and up go the interest rates. But what about the poor old primary producers and the huge overdrafts that they have been carrying in recent times? This load is still increasing. As I said before, they have been belted right around the area. Every move that the Government makes should support decentralised industries but we find that just the reverse is true. The honourable member for Robertson a little while ago quoted from some Press cuttings to show how favourably the Press had received the Budget. Let me quote a few. The 'Ararat Advertiser' states: Budget disappointing to country people'. Another states: 'Free enterprise nation will drift to socialism'. Another headline is: 'Budget belts country people'.

Mr Holten - What is the name of this paper?

Mr KING - Oh, they are good country newspapers. These are the papers which incidentally are sure to get belted and will have great difficulty in competing with the PostmasterGeneral's Department. 'Planned elimination', says another one. I could go on and quote many more. Another says: 'Blast on the Budget'. Another which appeared in the 'Nhill Free Press' of 23 August - .and this is pretty close to the date of the Budget - is a beauty. The editorial of this paper is headed: 'Budget ballyhoo'. It states:

Could there be anyone in our rural community who is happy about the Labor Party's Budget which has just been brought down much to the detriment of most country people? Inflation has been an ever increasing problem in our affluent society but the Budget has not aimed to improve this.

I wish I only had time to quote more of this article because there is plenty of good stuff in it.

Mr O'Keefe - You have another 10 minutes left.

Mr KING - That is right. I have another 10 minutes, but I have a lot more to say too. I want to spend a little time on something which has attracted much comment from both inside and outside this place, that is, the reasons for inflation. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner) made, I believe, a very good comment in relation to this matter. But I want to take it from a different angle. Government supporters repeatedly have said that the costs which cause inflation are basically brought about by the prices of foodstuffs, particularly those of the meat industry. I suppose that if one looks at the present day prices of meat and compares them with the record low prices that prevailed, one could say that there has been a substantial increase. I have no argument about that. But people must be fair when they make such comparisons.

Mr Nixon - It is only consistent with average weekly earnings.

Mr KING - The honourable member for Gippsland has made an appropriate comment in regard to this. I would just like to make a few comments and comparisons. I have a document put out by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics entitled 'Seasonally adjusted indicators 1973'. At page 89 of this document we find that in 1963 average male earnings for the March quarter - I will stick to the March quarter because we have to have some guide - were $46.90. In March 1973 this bad gradually increased to $97.50. I would like to refer now to another Bureau of Agricultural Economics document - I do not think that anyone disputes the accuracy of these publications - which contains variations in the price of meat. This document is the statistical handbook of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics for 1973. I have taken out a precis of the relevant figures in the document and I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.


Order! Is leave granted? There being n'o objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


Mr KING - In this schedule I have taken out some averages because if one wants to quote variations in price then one can make any old argument fit a case. I think that the price variation, which is based on Newmarket saleyards prices for lambs, ranges from about 30c away back in 1953 to 28c last year.

Mr Corbett - Would there be 3 per cent in it?

Mr KING - I would not think that there is 3 per cent. One certainly would not get 3 per cent from this Government. There is only one true comparison and that is, as I have said, to make one's calculations over an averaging period. What I have done has been to divide the 3 types of meat - lamb, mutton and beef - into 3 equal averaging periods of 1959 to 1963, 1964 to 1968 and 1969 to 1973. Taking lamb as a basis for the month of August, which is the month just ended, the average between 1959 and 1963 was 18.7c per lb; the average between 1964 and 1968 was 24.7c per lb; and the average between 1969 and 1973, honourable members will be amazed to note, was 23.8c per lb. Therefore the average for the last 5-year period actually dropped. I will say in fairness that for the month crf August this year the price was high.

In the mutton sector the price for the first averaging period was 9.6c for the second averaging period it was 12.6c; and for the last averaging period it was 14c. If one is looking for a rapid or exaggerated increase all one has to do is to compare the almost record low of 8.9c per lb in 1971 with the price 2 years later where the figure is as high as 30c per lb. But if one averages it over the 3 averaging periods we find that the price has risen from 9.6c to 14c. So it is very easy for people to say that at the present level meat prices are too high; they are only comparing them with what was a record low of a couple of years ago. When it comes to the problem and the answer as far as meat prices are concerned we must consider a few fundamental points that many people overlook.

Mr O'KEEFE (PATERSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Such as supply and demand.

Mr KING - Yes, as my colleague has said, such as supply and demand. This is a basic fundamental that one must remember all of the time. We must remember that there is a world shortage at the moment of meat, wheat and rice production. Surely if people in Australia believe that because of these conditions they will get cheaper types of food they will have another think coming. It is only natural that if we belt into the man who is producing these commodities - it does not matter whether he is producing rice, wheat or meat in Australia or any other country - the simple ABC of the thing is that before long there will be nothing for him if he continues to produce that product and he will reduce his production further. This in turn will create a shortage and in the long term we will finish up with a higher price than in the past. There is no doubt that Australia produces the cheapest meat in the world. What is more I think that we are either the top or the second top biggest meat consumer in the world.

Mr Nixon - The second biggest.

Mr KING - The honourable member for Gippsland says that Australia is the second biggest meat consumer in the world. There is no .doubt that the Australian people are better connoisseurs of meat than the people of any other country. As far as I am concerned, there is no alternative other than to leave the meat industry alone. The meat industry - the grower organisations - do not want any interference.

They have been going along very happily. They have accepted the high prices as well .as the low prices. The same thing applies to other food producing industries. We hear a lot of people criticising the Australian Country Party and the country people for demanding subsidies for this and that and as soon as there is an increase in a grant, there is a hue and cry from a lot of people. Yet the strange thing is that the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) has been trying to convince people that there has been an increase in subsidies provided for rural industries.

At present a very big contribution is made by primary industries to consumers in this country. Let us take as a simple example the wheat industry. At present the international price is about $3.87 a bushel. What does the consumer pay for his flour? Does he pay the equivalent of the international price?

Mr Corbett - No.

Mr KING - No, of course he does not; he pays less than half. Australia consumes something like 60 million bushels of wheat a year. Let honourable members work that out. There is an example of a contribution from a very small section of the community to the entire community because most people eat bread or flour of some description. This benefit is indirectly passed on through many other commodities. For instance, wheat provides a cheap feed for stock. So, those people who are so critical of primary industries being subsidised should remember my final . words: The wheat industry at present is contributing a huge amount to the community.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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