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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1051

Mr ERIC ROBINSON (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - The Opposition has brought forward for discussion this matter of public importance. We have heard 2 speeches from the Government side - one from the Treasurer (Mr Crean), who gave us a rather academic lecture, and the other from the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), who attempted to give a great list of excuses for the Government's action or lack of action. But what are the facts as Australians know them? On 2 December 1972 the economy was moving ahead well. Employment opportunities were growing and inflation in that quarter was down to a manageable rate of 4.6 per cent. This was the result of good Budget strategy in 1972. Nine months later, a month after the first Labor Budget, what do we find? The economy is over-heating and the rate of inflation is somewhere between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. I do not think that even the Treasurer knows exactly what the rate of inflation is. The Budget document states that in this financial year wages will increase by an average pf 13 per cent while productivity is expected to increase by between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent.

Within a month of the election of the Labor Government, there was an uneasiness in the minds of the community. This became a lack of confidence and it is now, justifiably, a fear in the minds of the electorate. Why is it that the Labor Government lacks the skill to manage the financial affairs of this nation? There would be many reasons, but I think 3 reasons are tremendously important. Firstly, we have a Labor Government which is obsessed with socialist and centralist policies. Government supporters hid this pretty well during the election campaign, but the obsession is all too clear for everyone to see now. Secondly, we have a Labor Government which dislikes - even hates - private enterprise, with all the wealth and the great development and growth that that system has given this nation. Thirdly, we have a Labor Government which fears militant trade unionism, with all the disadvantages that flow from that fear to the great army of trade unionists with common sense and a desire to contribute to their country.

The obsession with centralist and socialist policies is reflected by the Government's expenditure in the Budget. Of course, with all the commissions and committees and with all the growth of the bureaucracy, we had to have an increase in Government expenditure of 19 per cent. There were no priorities and there was a very real degree of irresponsibility at a time when different decisions and emphases were called for. We even have the Government saying to private enterprise: 'No, we do not want your $100m to build a pipeline. We must have that as a socialised pipeline. We must have a national pipeline authority'. So, more than $10Om of taxpayers' money has been allocated in that direction. There has been a deliberate attempt to shift the emphasis from private enterprise to the public sector. There has been an attack upon and harsh treatment of private companies which have contributed to Australia's growth, and an increase in indirect taxation which, of course, has created problems not only for private enterprise but also for Australians and has added enormously to the impact of inflation.

Interest rates are at their highest level ever. Also, as the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) said only too well, there has 'been an attack upon the rural industries just when they were emerging out of very many difficult years. There has been a deliberate attempt to downgrade the standard of rural industries throughout this nation. As to the mining industry, the less said the better. From time to time the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) in this House without regard viciously attacks the mining industry. He gives no consideration to the tremendous development and growth that it has given to the country.

The Government fears militant unionism. The new Labor Government is not game, it does not have the courage to tackle industrial unrest. Before the last election the word was around: 'We will understand the trade unions. We get on better with them and we will have industrial peace.' But what has happened? The Government's record is vastly different from the words it utters. Not only has there been a lack of courage; there also has been a fracturing of the conciliation and arbitration system. The Government has shown softness as to working hours. It has not been concerned to point out to Australians the tremendously important link between wages and productivity. As to prices, after coming into office Labor postured by setting up the Prices Justification Tribunal and a parliamentary committee. Now it is talking about a referendum on price control.

Leaving aside the Budget for the moment, let us study some of the Government's decisions. The Prices Justification Tribunal is just a sham. In cutting tariffs by 25 per cent no judgment or selectivity was used and no concern demonstrated as to the impact it would have. Did anybody believe that it would have a uniform impact throughout the country? It was just an ad hoc decision. It is appreciated that there were very good reasons for revaluing our currency but there was also a very good reason to have a look at the impact of revaluation and whether compensation payments were necessary.

Interest rates are at their highest level and utter confusion has resulted from increasing them. Even the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) does not know what it is all about. That has been obvious from the answers to questions and comments he has made in this House. The Government is talking about a referendum on price control. It is fascinating. Almost as fascinating is the way decisions have been reached. First we had the WhitlamBarnard Government. Members of the Second Whitlam Ministry have been involved in some decisions, but most have been made by three or four Ministers. We have witnessed the fascinating exercise of Caucus countermanding the decisions of the Government. I do not doubt the sincerity of Labor members but after studying their financial philosophy one can arrive only at the conclusion that as far as economic expertise is concerned they are nothing more than enthusiastic amateurs. In the best interests of Australia they should not interfere in some of the decisions made.

All the decisions made add up to a credit squeeze. Because of a lack of proper decisions and proper leadership savings will be eroded and interest rates have reached their highest level yet. Tremendously increased housing costs have hit the younger members of the community. The Labor Government is supposed to be concerned about our senior citizens, people on pensions and fixed incomes, but they are becoming more and more disadvantaged. Regrettably, the worst is yet to come. The decisions made by this Government have failed to achieve anything but it is obvious that there will be more and more ad hoc decisions so that the confidence of Australians will be eroded.

Why does not the Government display some courage in tackling inflation? Why does it not say: *We will look not only at prices but also at incomes. Inflation is a matter that has to be tackled upon many fronts.' Why do not Government supporters say that it is in the interests of the nation to have a temporary squeeze? We do not suggest that it is a long term solution but Labor members should say whether it is in the interests of the nation and is helpful. Why does not the Government have some courage? I invite honourable members opposite to look at Government expenditure and admit that the Government has been wrong, that there ought to be some pruning and allocation of priorities in Government expenditure.

Why does not the Government stand up to militant trade unionism and say: 'We will not have this tremendous increase in industrial lawlessness with all the costs it imposes on this nation'? Can we have some clarity on interest rates from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or somebody who is able to give it? Australia is not governed solely by the Federal Government. Why can we not have a cooperative effort with the State governments? Why do we not see a genuine attempt by this Federal Government to assure the State governments that it will not ask for powers to be used for its centralist and socialist policies but for powers in order to serve the national interest? I would hope that the Government would realise the tremendous burden that is coming upon the community and would appreciate that there are not only within the State governments but within the community at large many people who are willing to help if they get the leadership that this nation needs.

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