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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1524

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - The second reading speech is remarkable for what it does not say. But let us examine some of the things that it does say. This Bill is said to be .a companion to the Bill passed by the House last week. It so happens that its companion is in one chamber and this - the companion - is in another chamber. There is a history behind that which I will deal with shortly. But just what is the argument for the proposal? It rests on the words: 'It would be helpful to have should the need arise'. What an extraordinary proposal, that it would be just helpful to have if the need should arise. There is not a single word about the policy, the way in which it would be developed and the way in which it would be used.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) quoted an answer he gave the other day. Why did the Government not do it itself? Why did it look for an opponent to do it? The answer is that the Government was gutless - quite gutless - about the issue and the companionship it has now discovered took a very long time in the finding. The Prime Minister said that the Government will operate flexibly and selectively and it will act responsibly. We know what has happened to all the other Government actions and how responsible it has been since it has been in office. No government in the history of Australian politics, with one exception, has lost favour with the public as rapidly as this Government has in the 10 months it has been in office. That is because it has failed to act responsibly. The second reading speech says that the Government will seek to maintain an improved purchasing power of the people's earnings. Its attempt to maintain the purchasing power has totally failed up to now, as the statistics on inflation and price rises prove.

In his speech the Prime Minister said that the national Parliament could guarantee basic standards throughout the nation. What does that mean? Does it mean a power to level down in the community to maintain basic standards? Does it mean that the Commmon.wealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will no longer have a role in fixing national minimum wages and that it will be done by the Prime Minister and a Cabinet subject to the suzerainty of the Caucus and of the trade union movement? That is what it means. The words used by the Prime Minister in his speech were:

We are of course aware that there are differences of opinion whether this power over incomes, in addition to the power over prices, is really necessary to deal with inflation.

He does not say that he believes that it is necessary. Nowhere in the speech does he say that. He said that he is aware of differences of opinion, but he has not stated the view of the

Government on it, because the truth is that it is lying down on this proposal. It does not want this proposal to pass. It has done a very mangy deal with the Australian Democratic Labor Party and it is terrified of the unions.

This second reading speech presents no argument other than the argument 'Let us have it'. There is no examination of the way in which it would be used. There is no strong argument for it. Nobody could suggest that there is a strong argument for it, and the reason for that is the deal the Government has done with the DLP. And it is feeling very ashamed of it. There is loud laughter from the other side of the chamber. But who is there on the other side who up until today would have been prepared to embrace the DLP? Today if Government supporters vote for this legislation they embrace the DLP. 1 oppose this referendum proposal because the Government is not tackling inflation with the proposal at all. It is a travesty of an attack on inflation. The Government is taking advantage of a temporary bad situation of accelerating inflation which it created. It created the temporary inflationary situation and it wants to hoodwink the Australian public into giving it permanent powers which it does not need for curing the problem we are confronting today. It is a problem of today. The Government is looking to get power to change the whole social and economic order of Australia tomorrow. That is the whole purpose of its platform policy and rules. If it wants to tackle inflation it should have a full anti-inflationary policy which would proceed on the basis of economic responsibility to control total demand in Australia. To do so it would need to take action to control Government spending and public sector spending. For this it needs no extra powers or referendum at all. This is the first major step to take. It could be taken today by a government which had the will to tackle inflation.

The Government has never at any time accepted that an income-prices policy is a necessary supplement to a major attack on inflation. It has presented these proposals in this way in the hope that the incomes proposal will be rejected and the prices proposal will be accepted. That is the whole purpose of the tactic the Government has adopted. Now, as a travesty, it has put forward 2 separate proposals, one on prices and one on incomes, in a grab for permanent power. Control over prices and incomes should not be a permanent feature of the economic management of a country such as Australia* I have always said that and I say it again today because it is true. It is a permanent feature of a totalitarian government. The granting of the power will be an encouragement to create that situation. Australia is - at least so I thought until a few moments ago - still a parliamentary democracy, but the way in which the Government is handling this Bill shows that it has no commitment to parliamentary democracy. Through the constant use of the gag and the guillotine the Government is pushing legislation through the Parliament in a senseless use of its. numbers, which makes one doubt that the Australian Labor Party has a commitment to the parliamentary system. It has put itself in a disgraceful situation.

Last week the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill was introduced. Now we have before us a purported second issue or companion issue, the Constitution Alteration (Incomes) Bill. The 2 Bills are closely linked, even if separated by different chambers and by the passage of 2 weeks. Why were they not submitted at the one time? We know the answer to that. The Prime Minister could not control his Caucus. He did not even want the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill at the start. The Prime Minister certainly did not know his own mind. He also did not know Caucus's mind, the Australian Democratic Labor Party's mind or Mr Hawke's mind. He was also not to know what a belting he would get from the voters in the Parramatta byelection who were sick and tired of the confusion which has masqueraded as government.

I have proposed a comprehensive attack on inflation. I have proposed a package of measures to fight inflation across the board in cooperation with the States and not by seeking permanent new powers for the Commonwealth. Such permanent powers are not necessary to meet what should be temporary problems of inflation - and would be only temporary if the Government had had the courage to tackle them. So we must ask ourselves whether, by seeking permanent powers, the Labor Government anticipates permanent problems with inflation. Does it not believe that it can tackle them while it continues to pursue its present policies? Many believe the Labor Government wants a permanent high rate of inflation to fill the coffers of the Treasury which would enable it to meet some of the unrealistic election promises which won it power and which now seem meaningless. We have already had the rejection of a promise on defence spending by the

DeputyPrime Minister (Mr Barnard) - a very substantial cut. We have also had the screwing of the knife in the back of the Prime Minister by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) over the 35-hour working week promise to public servants. The Minister for Labour, while masquerading as a supporter of the Prime Minister, is pushing the knife deeper into the ribs of the Prime Minister.

No one will deny that the problem of inflation is now critical. The increasing cost of living since Labor came to office is staggering. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) have sought, with naively contrived statistics, to foist responsibility onto the previous Government, but they have failed. Let us examine objectively the figures provided by the Commonwealth Statistician. They cannot be denied, although the Government may be tempted to try to do so. Those figures show that the consumer price index movements in 1972 were as follows: For the first quarter, one per cent; for the second quarter, 0.9 per cent; for the third quarter, 1.4 per cent and for the fourth quarter, 1.2 per cent. The total for 1972 was 4.5 per cent.

Let us examine the figures for 1973 and see what has happened since the advent of the Labor Government. The consumer price index for the first quarter was 2.1 per cent and for the second quarter 3.3 per cent - a total of 5.4 per cent. In the first 6 months of 1973 the consumer price index had already moved up higher than it did in the whole of 1972. The cost of living increase during the first 6 months of Labor rule was outrageously high. What is even more alarming is what has been said by the Treasurer - that is, the Treasurer who is away and not the Acting Treasurer (Mr Hayden), who today gave the Prime Minister a bit of a kick in the ribs when he said that it is important for the people to support Government action, whereas the Prime Minister presents no arguments to the people. On the one hand we have the Acting Treasurer saying that arguments must be presented to the public and on the other we have the Prime Minister steadfastly refusing to do so. The Treasurer has said that the figures for the September quarter, which will come out on about 20 October, will be even worse than they were for the June quarter. The pessimistic judgment of the Treasurer no doubt will be right because the monthly food index rose by 2.8 per cent in July, in one month.

What has the Government done to reduce or even contain the alarming increases which are eroding the incomes, threatening the well-being and depressing the spirit of Australian people? It has equivocated, it has vacillated and it has taken piecemeal measures - sometimes of a grandiose nature to distract attention from their ineffectiveness as anti-inflationary measures. We have now had the extraordinary situation of a prices referendum being proposed one week and a separate incomes measure being proposed the next week. This is supposed to represent a concerted and coherent attack on inflation. It is wobbly political expediency.

The Prime Minister has argued for prices justification - justification, not control. He has always claimed constitutional power for such justification. On 30 August he said:

It is important to remember that our approach is one of price justification, not price control. The emphasis in our anti-inflationary program is on voluntary co-operation.

He said that on 30 August, but he did po' repeat it last week and he did not repeat it today. The Acting Treasurer is out of line. He is still listening to the old record - and that is what he was trying to say today. The Opposition, while arguing that the proposed prices justification tribunal would not work, did not oppose the Bill to establish such a tribunal. The Opposition stands vindicated in its opinion because the Prime Minister has, by his action today, admitted that it is a failure. In fact, it is steadily becoming a prices exemption tribunal. It is a shoddy example of increased spending of Government money, and for what purpose - to be abandoned now.

The Treasurer might as well be in Timbuktoo instead of Nairobi for all the contribution he has made. The only contribution he has made was not to be here yesterday while caucus was discussing this proposal because he opposes it. As is well known, he he has not even been given an opportunity to vote on it. At last the components of the unholy trinity are away at the same time - the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns), who is the Minister for everything, the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), who is the Minister for nothing, and the Treasurer, who is a Minister in search of a portfolio. The Acting Treasurer is making it quite clear that that poor chap is going to have an awfully hard battle when he gets back. The only contribution the Treasurer has made to controlling inflation has been to say in his Budget Speech that he could do nothing about it and, then to make the staggering statement that inflation did not start on 2 December. What he has done for inflation has distressed every Australian family.

Then there is the Joint Committee on Prices, which is a committee of both Houses of the Parliament. It was to be in the forefront of the Government's attack on rising prices. What have we had from it? A hopelessly inadequate majority report. The luckless Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), has conceded that the majority recommendations of the Committee in the report presented last week are out of date. What has he had to say? He said that if a crisis arises in the future, at least we will have done the work. So much for this prong in the Government's attack on inflation - a prong so blunt it could not prick an 'It's Time' balloon. The Prime Minister is on record as saying that he did not want a prices referendum, that it was forced on him. Now he says that we will have the incomes referendum because the DLP wants it. The caucus, that economic committee of 93, had other ideas and the Constitution Alteration (Incomes) Bill was introduced.

The Prime Minister's speech, as we heard, was a very desultory effort. He saw the problem with the Senate, but he was also prepared to deal with the DLP. Who is churching the old whore now? Can honourable members imagine the enticing scene of the Prime Minister and Senator McManus kissing and making up?

Mr Daly - I rise on a point of order. Is it in order for the Leader of the Opposition to attack the ally of the Country Party in this way.

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