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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1774

Dr J F CAIRNS (Lalor) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - In closing this debate on these 4 Bills I remark that I have been very interested in the debate on the Budget that has taken place this afternoon. There are several points that I should like to mention, one or two general ones and then a couple of fairly specific ones. Everything the Government has done in the last 6 months to deal with inflation has been said by the Opposition to be wrong. But I have yet to hear one constructive suggestion from the Opposition about what should be done. This debate is a good example of that.

The Opposition is against the imposition of these extra taxes for which the Bills provide. As an alternative to them the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, and the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett), said that the Government should have cut its expenditure. I asked by interjection: 'In what way?' The honourable member for Berowra gave the Public Service as one example and then turned to the national pipeline as did the honourable member for Canning. First of all, the Government has not spent any money on the pipeline so that could not have contributed much to the present inflation. So we would not have dealt with the inflation as it is by not spending money on the pipeline because we have not spent any on it. The second point about the pipeline is that the honourable member for Canning recognises the need for a pipeline. He said that private companies sought to construct it. But the belief that spending by private companies is any less inflationary than spending by the government is a completely inaccurate view. $1 spent by private enterprise is the same as $1 spent by the Government. Every dollar is equally inflationary.

Mr Edwards - Private enterprise is more efficient.

Dr J F CAIRNS - I turn to the question of efficiency. We have only a few government enterprises in Australia but does anybody seriously claim that Trans Australia Airlines is less efficient than Ansett Airlines of Australia? Does anyone claim that the Commonwealth Bank is less efficient than any other bank? No, there is silence from the Opposition. Nobody believes that. So the idea that private enterprise is necessarily any more efficient than the government is always disproved by practice. We do not have many examples of government enterprises but every one we do have is efficient. I notice that a very large number of members of the Opposition choose to fly by TAA. So. I dismiss this argument as part of the political clap-trap in which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) is the leader of the band. I have never heard anyone better at it than he.

Let us have a look at these Bills as they stand. Let us look firstly at the Diesel Fuel Tax Bills. Firstly, 80 per cent of the diesel fuel used in Australia is not taxed at all. The only disel fuel that is taxed is that which is used on public roads. The people in the country, for whom the honourable member for Canning has been speaking, have had a pretty good go under Labor. We have not attempted to take lc from the high incomes that they have been receiving throughout this year as a special inflationary measure. They have been subject to exactly the same conditions and principles as everybody else. But I say now that more than 60 per cent of inflation - the honourable member for Berowra dismissed this rather simply - measured in the increases in retail prices of commodities today is inflation from outside. It is imported. Unless we can stabilise the entry of inflation into Australia we will not be able to deal with inflation within Australia.

We have not taken lc from the growers, the producers or the exporters. As I said, 80 per cent of the diesel fuel used in Australia is not taxed at all. That is the first point. I shall now give examples of the price of petrol around the world to show where Australia stands on this aspect. The prices per gallon are: United States of America, 42c; Britain, 68c; Austria, 59c; Belgium, 79c; Eire, 66c; France, 84c; Italy, 96c; Netherlands, 81c; Sweden, 82c; Switzerland, 71c; Denmark, 76c; West Germany, 68c; Greece, 76c and Australia, 51c. Petrol is available in Australia at a lower price than in almost any comparable country.

Mr Edwards - But we are talking about containing the existing situation.

Dr J F CAIRNS - Let us have a look at containing the existing situation. What percentage of the total cost of petrol in comparable countries is attributable to tax? I have figures for some of them. In Britain it is 66 per cent; Belgium, 73 per cent; France, 72 per cent; Austria, 44 per cent and Australia, 46 per cent.

Mr Edwards - It is a question of the time and place to do these things.

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