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Tuesday, 18 September 1973
Page: 1164

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister for the Northern Territory) - We have heard the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) describe this Bill as an attack on the Australian community. This Bill seeks to have a referendum to give the Australian Parliament a power it does not have over the economy of Australia. Opposition supporters describe this Bill as a Bill that seeks to give the Australian Parliament a power to administer the Australian economy - as an attack on the Australian people. One would not have to dwell too long on this to realise that we are seeing Opposition spokesmen in their true colours. One does not often see them in their true colours but one often feels that what they are saying is: 'We seek a power if the Australian people will give it to us to do something about inflation.' The Opposition to a man, they say, refuse to give us that power. They refuse to give the Australian Parliament the capacity to try to do something about inflation. This is surely consistent with the Opposition's whole attitude, its whole frame of reference because a control over prices, a control that would allow inflation to be reduced strikes at the interests of the people whom the Opposition represents. Essentially, of course, those people represent the private sector of the economy.

I recognise that profit plays an incredibly important role in any mixed economy, in any free enterprise economy and in any economy such as we have in Australia at this stage. But as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said, you have to look at the social equation. There is the profit motive which produces an income to the employing groups, the manufacturing groups. The other side of the equation produces an income usually in the form of wages of the wage earners who are the overwhelming mass of Australians. All we say is this: In the interests of plain ordinary "fairness and common decency 85 per cent of Australians have since about 1907 had a very effective form of control over wage increases. In that year the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was enacted because the Constitution gave this Parliament the power to make a law on that subject. Of course if this Opposition had been here at that time it would have argued that we should not have had that power. It would not have this Parliament have any power because it is in the interests of the people it represents that this Parliament should have as little power as possible. But back in 1907 that power to make laws with regard to the settlement of industrial disputes was enacted and approximately 85 per cent of Australians since that time have had a very effective series of controls over wage and salary increases.

I should not have to remind honourable members of the normal process that takes place in Australia when a vast mass of wage earners seek a wage increase. Through their organisation, usually a trade union or a professional association, they lodge a log of claims which cannot just be put up and accepted. When honourable members in this House tried to put up their salaries two or three years ago they found they could not just put their wages up and we waited years before they were increased. So there is a built-in safeguard against wage earners or salary earners putting up their wages or salaries. In applications for wage increases it is a normal requirement that a log of claims of some sort be served on the employer or group of employers. It is in their very interests in maintaining profit margins, if you like, to give that log of claims for a salary or wage increase a very close look, to oppose it, to reject it or to keep it within bounds if they possibly can.

So there are built-in safeguards, firstly, for the employers who do not want to give it unless it has to be given; secondly, of course the machinery that exists to resolve a dispute that occurs when the employer or group of employers cannot settle their differences with the trade unions. It then goes to the conciliator and ultimately an arbitrator who presides over the matter and resolves the dispute. So there is a built-in system of control to prevent excessive wage increases in Australia. That is my answer to the challenge of the honourable member for Flinders in regard to what he said about wage controls in this country. We do have this control. There is no other comparable country in the world - I emphasise the words 'no other comparable country in the world' - with the advantage of a built-in system of wage control that Australia has. It therefore follows that because wage increases have to be justified in a great majority of cases, if you can control price increases or reduce the rate at which prices are increasing you will in effect reduce the rate at which wages go up. If you can keep prices down wages will not go up so fast because that is what happens every time wages increase. It would go against anybody's experience to deny it. Whenever a union or a group of unions goes before an arbitration tribunal it says: 'Prices have gone up, allow us to put our wages up'. That is their case.

Mr Viner - No, it is not.

Mr ENDERBY - Invariably it is 90 per cent of their case that price increases have already taken place and they relate it to increases in productivity, the maintenance of parity, margins and things of that sort. But in essence they say: 'Prices have gone up so do not let us fall behind.' They have to justify wage increases which they are seeking. As the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has said several times, this is one of the very few countries if not the only country where the national Parliament is denied the right to make laws with regard to prices. In the overall interest of fairness I am convinced and I put it to honourable members that they also would be convinced that if it is fair for the wage earner to have to justify his wage increases in most cases or in many cases equally it should be fair for the person who sets prices to have to justify his price increases because we do have a system of price control in this country. The only feature about it is that it is not in many cases responsible to the public interest.

Prices are set by large corporations and the large chain stores which in very few cases are activated only by considerations of competition. One only has to look at identical advertisements that are placed in, say, the 'Canberra Times' as against those appearing in Sydney newspapers by some of the chain stores advertising a particular commodity. One will see that the great difference in the price that is set for that commodity is not related to cost in any way at all. The prices they choose to set are not determined in any way by what is in the public interest. The prices they choose to set are all too often affected or influenced by the capacity of the customer to pay. It is axiomatic. I grew up in a shop. When my father put the price on a dozen apples it was determined not so much by what they cost him as by what he could get from the public; what he could reasonably expect to sell them for or what people would be prepared to pay for them.

Mr Graham - What is wrong with that?

Mr ENDERBY - Before I come to that let me put an additional point to reinforce the argument. In communities that are better off than others - in Pymble, for example - people will pay more for a loaf of bread or a pound of steak than people will pay in Balmain. The honourable member for North Sydney asked what was wrong with that. When this is taken to the extreme and there is lack of competition with a rising expectancy of increasing standards of living, about which the Treasurer spoke so eloquently, particularly in other countries - the third world all wanting to live a little better after thousands of years - there is a demand on our resources which we never had before, for meat in particular, and other commodities. This is why we are importing inflation. I have expressed it very simply, of course, but this plays a large part in the present situation. One of the tragedies of the situation in which we find ourselves is that this Government was left completely defenceless by the previous Government in terms of taking measures to counteract this kind of inflation. What mechanisms, devices or tools did the previous Government leave us? None! With the very limited constitutional power we have the Government has done a few things. It has revalued the Australian dollar to reduce the price of imports but, because the Opposition apparently does not want us to have the power, we cannot ensure that the reduced prices for imports are passed on to the consumers. That, of course, would require a form of price control. I illustrate my point in this way: I represent the Australian Capital Territory. I can make laws for the Australian Capital Territory that do not have the inhibitions about them that outside laws have.

Mr Graham - The Australian Capital Territory is the wealthiest community in Australia.

Mr ENDERBY - Be that as it may, this is a non sequitur. On 1 January 1974 a New South Wales road tax will be removed. This tax attaches to many goods coming into the Aus tralian Capital Territory at present. If I do nothing, there is no way in the world whereby the savings resulting from the removal of that tax will be passed on to the consumer - the customer who goes into a shop in Canberra. The savings will not be passed on because it is against the nature of the system that they should be passed on. The shopkeeper - I do not blame him because it is human nature - will still charge the same price although he will be getting the goods here for less than he paid before. I would have difficulty in some respects in imposing price control in the Australian Capital Territory because Canberra is an island. Goods come here from New South Wales. If I were to say 'Hold the present prices' or 'Reduce prices by the amount of the tax removed' I might not get those goods. The person in New South Wales could say I will sell my goods in New South Wales' and I might not get them. This is another example of the incredible situation of cutting up Australia into artificial legal divisions called States. The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) is shaking his head. If he wanted to work out a system of government that would make it difficult for the Australian Government to work efficiently he could not devise a system more effective than the present Australian system of government. This has nothing to do with politics but it is a crazy, ridiculous system in its present form.

Sir John Cramer - You want to restrict the States.

Mr ENDERBY - I do not. The present system does not reflect regions nor does it reflect regional groupings of commerce or people. However, it artificially divides areas so that there is division of power. I shall not continue with this train of thought but one hears hypocrisy in arguments whenever one listens to a debate such as this. The Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony), supporting the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), spoke of a circuit breaker. He wants some kind of a 90-day freeze on prices coupled with some kind of a 90-day freeze on wages but he knows that the Australian Government has no power to act in this way. I brought into the chamber with me a book on constitutional law, only because it conveniently contains a copy of the Constitution. If honourable members examine section 51 of the Constitution and the paragraphs thereto they will see there set out the powers of the Australian Parliament. No reference will be found to prices.

There is no way in the world by which the Australian Government can impose price control as the law stands at present, nor can it impose control on wages.

Mr Viner - Where did you get power for the Prices Justification Tribunal?

Mr ENDERBY - From the corporation power.

Mr Viner - Well, why cannot you control prices similarly?

Mr ENDERBY - (Because a lot of goods which are sold are not sold by companies. Let us imagine that the Leader of the Country Party is correct when he talks of a circuit breaker. What sort of a circuit breaker would it be? It would simply be putting the lid on inflation and it would be more like a bomb than a circuit breaker. It would blow up when he took it off. I put this to the House: The Government, with the limited powers that it has, has taken more steps in the 8 to 9 months it has been in power to do something about the inflationary situation - a defenceless situation it inherited from the previous Government - than the previous Government ever did. I have mentioned revaluation. Did the previous Government, when it was faced with the problem a year or so ago, revalue the Australian dollar? The Liberals wanted to do so, but they were not allowed by the Country Party. Did the previous Government have the guts to do anything about tariffs? Not on your life! It took the Labor Party to take action so that some cheap imported goods could be encouraged into Australia.

Did the previous Government consider that it might be to our advantage to know something more about what causes prices to go up, resulting in inflation? No, it did nothing. The Government established the Joint Committee on Prices under the chairmanship of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). That Committee consists of members of all parties and it is charged with studying and investigating this very complex problem that afflicts every country with an economy similar to our own. The Government set up the Prices Justification Tribunal, with all the limitations it has. We recognised its limitations. The Constitution does not allow the Australian Parliament - the Parliament that is thought by Australians to have the power to govern for them - to do what it can with the limited facilities given to it. Recently, of course, the Government has activated the role of the Reserve

Bank. This will be the subject of another debate. The Government has done a lot. None of these devices or tools would have been tried by the previous Government now sitting in Opposition, yet honourable members opposite complain. They were even against an incomes and prices policy last year. Now in Opposition they beat the air and beat their chests, like galahs sitting on a dead tree with a bushfire sweeping towards them, saying: T>o something'. Our reply is: 'All right. Give us the powers to make laws with regard to prices'. But what do they do? They say: 'Not on your life. Not that. Do something else'.

In the limited time available to me it is interesting to look through die Australian Constitution. If honourable members examine section 51 they will see the powers given to the Australian Parliament back in 1900. It was given power to make laws concerning banking. If the Australian Parliament had not been given that power and the Labor Government in 1973 sought power with respect to banking the present Opposition would be hollering blue murder and saying: TOo not give the Government power'. The Australian Parliament was given power to make laws with respect to bankruptcy. If it had not been given those powers and we were seeking them mow the Opposition would 'be saying 'Do not give the Australian Parliament power to make laws regarding bankruptcy'. The Australian Government was given powers for defence purposes. I know that this is an extreme case but I have no doubt that if, for one reason or another, our founding fathers in 1900 had not seen fit to give the Australian Parliament power with respect to defence and we were now seeking such power because of some threat, the same voices would be heard from the Country Party and the Liberal Party saying: Do not give the Australian Parliament power. The Government cannot be trusted with it'. The Australian Parliament can make laws with regard to bills of exchange. I have no doubt that if it had not been given that power - say because they had not been invented then - and we now sought power we would be told: 'No, you do not need it. Do something else. Do not rely on cheques. Rely on something else. Send carrier pigeons'. The latter suggestion might be more appropriate to the state of mind of honourable members opposite.

So I could go on, but this is the whole attitude of members of the Opposition. In power they did nothing. They left the people of

Australia, through their elected representatives, defenceless against the trouble of inflation which arises in a diverse set of ways from overseas as well as from within the country. Honourable members opposite protest and say: 'Do something'. Honourable members on this side of the chamber say: Give us the legal power so that we can try.' Then the Opposition runs for cover and opposes the legislation. A beautiful example was given this morning. The Leader of the Opposition was asking: 'What about incomes?'

Mr Peacock - Who wrote that book from which you were quoting?

Mr ENDERBY - Sir RobertMenzies. I could not find a better author. Is it not interesting that a member of the Australian Labor Party will quote Sir Robert Menzies? The honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) would not quote him.

Mr Peacock - I followed him.

Mr ENDERBY - But you would not quote him. The peak of this hypocrisy, this sham, this bad acting, this bad theatre, came this morning when at question time the Leader of Opposition said with the usual waffle: 'You cannot have price control unless you have income control.' The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said: 'AH right. You introduce a Bill that would allow us to put incomes control to the people of Australia and we will facilitate it. We will back it'. Where is it? The Leader of the Opposition ran so fast that he has not been seen since. That is the test of the sincerity of the Opposition. That is the test of its integrity and its statesmanship.

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