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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 909

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - I would like to commence by congratulating the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on his Budget not only because it is sound and progressive but also because of its recognition of and confidence in Australia and Australians. The Treasurer has displayed a measure of courage and determination to achieve social justice as well as fiscal responsibility. His efforts deserve the sympathetic support of all.

Honourable members interjecting -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! If the House does not come to order I will take the appropriate action. I assure honourable members of that.

Mr RIORDAN - The attack which has been launched and which is carried on now in a completely undignified way, in a manner which gives little credit to honourable members opposite represents a premature condemnation which has had no other significant effect than to cause some uncertainty and some confusion in the economy itself. Certainly no one could accuse the Opposition of having made any constructive suggestions that the Government might consider in respect of the question of inflation. (Quorum formed.) The attack made by the Opposition on the Budget has been negative in approach and petty in its scope. Of course inflation is a matter of serious concern. The Treasurer has made it clear that he acknowledges this fact and is anxious to attack it not by mouthing platitudes, giving forth with the vocabulary of the jackass and the cockatoo, but rather in sensible economic terms. It would be well for the education of some of the honourable members opposite if they had stopped talking for a while and had listened when the Treasurer was explaining the policy of the Government in this regard.

The causes of inflation are varied and the solutions are complex. The Opposition would have far more credibility if it acknowledged that the causes of inflation flow mainly from international factors. Part of the problem rests with prices exploitation - with the concept that a price is justified as long as the consumer is prepared or can be forced to pay. When the Opposition was in government it did nothing to protect the consumer against price exploitation. It encouraged monopoly and closed its eyes to unjustified and artificially high prices. It did nothing about resale price maintenance until it was forced to do so. It condemned those outside the Parliament who forced it to take appropriate action. The present Opposition claimed during its long period of office to be advocates of and adherents to the free enterprise system. But it allowed our industries to engage in practices which were far removed from free and open enterprise. It promised the Australian people effective laws against restrictive trade practices but the legislation it introduced was practically useless and had extremely limited effect. It practised the philosophy of liberal laissez-faire economics. The result is that today we pay the penalty.

The Opposition in this Parliament has been reckless and irresponsible in the way that it has attacked this Budget. Instead of putting the public interest above petty Party politics it has done the opposite. The Opposition has ignored the basic central facts. It has chosen to ignore the massive increase in funds made available for education. This Government has provided an extra $404m this year for education, which represents an increase of 92 per cent oyer the amount spent on education last year. Whilst the Liberal-Country Party Opposition, consistent with its outdated philosophy, regards this as a cost burden the Government regards it as a vital investment. Our philosophy is that money spent on education has a twofold benefit. Firstly, it will result in a better educated population which is able to produce more goods and services thereby increasing our total national wealth. Secondly, it equips people to cope with society, allows them to appreciate the better things of life and helps to develop more human happiness. I ask the rhetorical question: How can one measure in terms of financial cost the benefits which flow from the result of additional funds being used on the training of handicapped persons - people who were neglected and ignored by the coldhearted government of recent years, people whose lives were left alone to be looked after as best they could themselves in their handicapped state? Governments have a responsibility to develop human skills for a better life. Gross national product is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end and a method of achieving a better life. The Government recognises these basic central facts.

The fact that education and training have been neglected for so long is the cause of some of the problems inherited by this Government from its predecessors. In many industries today the shortage of skilled labour required to produce the goods and services desired by the Australian people is creating the inadequacy of supply which is an important element in rising costs and prices. This Government has already released additional funds which will have a significant effect in this regard. It will take some time before the beneficial effects of this action are felt, but they will be seen in the near future. Recently the Liberal Party Minister for Education in New South Wales accused building construction employers of contributing to the shortage of skilled tradesmen by their reluctance to employ sufficient apprentices in the industry. He advocated financial incentives to encourage the employment and training of more apprentices. He did nothing, but advocated that course. For many years it has been obvious that this serious and acute shortage of skilled tradesmen would occur. Everybody, apart from the previous Government, could see it arising as a direct result of the introduction on a widespread basis of the sub-contracting system in the building construction industry. The Liberal-Country Party coalition did absolutely nothing either to encourage or require an adequate training method or the establishment of appropriate facilities.

One of the first steps taken by the present Minister for Works (Senator Cavanagh) in the Whitlam Government was to introduce certain conditions concerning government building contracts. One of those conditions was:

In allocating contracts consideration shall be given to- Cd) the quota of apprentices the contractor by established awards is entitled to employ and the number employed

Did the Liberal and Country Party Opposition seek to encourage the Minister and the Government in their efforts to overcome what is a critical need in our society? Did it adopt a broad national outlook about the need to train more of our youth in the skills required to produce more housing for the Australian people? Certainly it did not. It launched a censure motion on the Government. I am happy to have been here to participate in the debate on that ill-conceived and petty motion and to have seen it completely rejected by this House. Honourable members opposite complain now about the result of their own ineptitude.

Those who suffer as a result of these failures are the homeless and the young married couples who face rapidly increased housing costs as a result of shortage and maximisation of profits by the building constructors. Honourable members opposite attack the Government on the one hand for spending too much and on the other for spending too little. They have criticised the fact that the Government has decided to keep expenditure on defence within reasonable limits and to spend what is consistent with our actual rather than our imagined needs. The way to reduce Government expenditure is left for Australian citizens to ponder. We reject any suggestion that less could be spent on social welfare. Those who rely on pensions and social welfare payments would not survive if their payments were reduced or were not increased with increased living costs. The fact is that those who are in this unfortunate position are in urgent need of the increased rates contained in this Budget.

The first step has also been taken in this Budget to abolish the socially iniquitous means test. The amount allocated for cultural recreation is an investment in good health. Money spent in this direction will be saved in the reduced need to provide medical services in the future. It follows, in my view, that it would be difficult significantly to reduce spending in this Budget without creating social injustice. This Government is not prepared to adopt the inverted role of Robin Hood, as some members of the Opposition would if they had the chance - that is, to rob the poor to pay the rich. This Government stands for equality in all fields.

One aspect of increased living costs which is causing deep concern in my electorate is the very serious and savage increase in water rates which has occurred in certain suburbs of Sydney. This unreasonable increase has been imposed because of the inflation of property values in the Coogee-Randwick area and the insistence of the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board to adjust the rate. Ratepayers in this area are being forced to pay almost double the rates they paid last year. Some are required to pay more. These are not the occupiers of large and luxurious homes. I am speaking on behalf of residents who live in small houses and home units. Many of these people are simply unable to meet the higher charges and are being forced to leave the area where they have spent their lives. Some are being forced to abandon the environment of their choice, to leave their homes and to move many miles away in their evening years and either make new friends or perhaps spend their fast years in loneliness.

The New South Wales Government has shown a callous and cynical lack of interest in the plight of these people. The method of rating is grossly unfair and the system of determining valuation is most inequitable. It is a deceitful method of imposing an unreasonable tax in an unacceptable manner. The cost of sewerage treatment has for many years required serious review. In my electorate we have some of the best beaches in the world, but this great natural resource is becoming polluted because of inadequate sewerage treatment.

In the city of San Francisco a different approach has been made to the problem. The local authority is required to provide only 20 per cent of the cost of providing the facilities for sewerage treatment. The other 80 per cent of the cost is met equally between the State and Federal governments. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has recently announced that a sum of $30m is to be made available for sewerage work. Of this amount $ 11.2m is to be made available to New South Wales. He has made it clear that part of this money is to 'be used for sewerage treatment. At least we can look forward to cleaner beaches, particularly in the summer months when they are used most and the prevailing breeze and tides play havoc with the effluent by sweeping it into the swimming areas.

The other very significant feature of this allocation is the term of the loan. Instead of the current local government interest rates and repayments over periods to the order of IS years, it will be spread over a period of 30 years. The Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board presently spends half its income on loan and interest repayments. This new approach by the Australian Government should significantly assist authorities concerned with the provision of sewerage. It is interesting to compare the different and discriminatory treatment of the people who live in Sydney. In the rural areas of New South Wales SO per cent of the cost of sewerage is met by the State Government itself. This is in sharp contrast to the method of financing the sewerage works in the city.

On the broad question of rising prices, members of the Opposition have displayed a peculiar attitude. Although during the whole period of their reign in government inflation was a problem, they have only found any possible solution since they were swept into Opposition. The plain fact is that the present level of inflation is due in no small part to economic dissipation and the political idleness of previous governments. Members of the Opposition are still stumbling along in the darkness of economic absurdity just as they did when in government. They now put forward very simplistic solutions to complex economic problems. Their suggestion now is to have a freeze. The people who were unemployed in the reign of the last Government certainly had a freeze and they will not forget it. For years honourable members opposite have argued that to control prices was ineffective and would create artificial shortages of goods and services. Now they claim to be in favour of a freeze of prices. How such a freeze would be successful in Australia when similar steps have failed in other countries is left unanswered. The question of this Parliament's having no power or authority to impose such a freeze is also ignored in their scramble and desperate attempts to gain some political favour in the electorate. In the scramble they are being shown to be dismally unsuccessful.

Members of the Opposition claim to favour an incomes-prices policy. Again they show their ineptitude by being unable to do more than recite the slogan. No detail is given about how such price and wage control is to 'be administered or what safeguards are to be contained in order to prevent inequities. The assumption is that the status quo is reasonable. Let me say again that there is no case on record in Australia of wages being increased in anticipation of a price increase. Wage increases have always followed an increase in prices. The opposite has never been the case. The main areas of price inflation are to be found in food and housing. There is no significant cost factor in the price spiral in either of these items.

Land prices have skyrocketed without any cost push element. It is a classic example of exploitation and profiteering. Similarly, uncontrolled rents have created real hardship for many. Again it can be shown that the price is determined exclusively on what the tenant will pay or can be forced to pay. Food prices are being determined solely by the level of demand both in Australia and overseas. Meat prices have skyrocketed under the influence of overseas demand. Food and shelter are items which are essential to life and expenditure on them cannot be avoided. It is difficult to preach the philosophy of consumer restraint when we are discussing the first and basic level of needs. Food and shelter are the essentials of life. The continued spiral in prices for these items is causing serious difficulties in the work place. As costs and prices rise, so the demand for higher wages follows. It is a selfperpetuating cycle.

Many industries are seething with discontent as workers have the feeling that they are not earning sufficient to maintoin an acceptable level of purchasing power. Increased prices in respect of items which are not related to cost increases have the effect of forcing up costs in industries where the goods and services produced have prices which are related to costs. A simple example is when a worker cannot buy meat on the wages that he is receiving, he makes a demand on the industry for higher wages which in effect pushes up costs in that industry. It is useless suggesting the type of incomes-prices policy which failed in Britain,

Canada and the United States, but our geniuses of the Opposition who failed in government and are now stumbling along in Opposition cannot come up with a solution except to mouth slogans which are meaningless. What is required at present is to reverse the cycle of wages and prices movement. What we need today is more stability.

Mr Giles - Why do you not do something about it?

Mr RIORDAN - The honourable member will see in the next couple of days some very positive steps to do something about it. The honourable member might surprise this side of the House by adopting an unpredictable attitude and doing something constructive. This Government has not been inactive. It has been very active in attacking inflation. The Prices Justification Tribunal has been established as has the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices. Tariffs have been reduced and the currency has been revalued. All these steps have been taken and it will take some time before their effects are felt. But they will have an effect on prices to the benefit of the economy and the Australian people. Price control and an extension of income regulation are inevitable. However, that is not a wages-prices policy as mouthed by the Opposition. Truth has a power of its own. It cannot be suppressed. It will win out in the end. The ingenuity for masquerade shown by the Opposition will not mislead the Australian people.

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