Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2177

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) - Mr Deputy Speaker,for us, it is fortunate that we live in a community which cherishes its freedom of action, a country peopled by men and women who want to do their own thing in their own way and in their own time. It is not a society that will tolerate for long the dictates of others or a government economically and socially illiterate that seeks to rule not by persuasion and common sense but to impose its gut reactions and primitive economic ideologies on a temporarily captive electorate. After 10 months the mood of the Australian public has changed. It wants a degree of certainty and predictability in political life within which the greatest personal freedom can be freely exercised and a society in which they can make their own economic, financial and social decisions freed from the smothering concept that 'mother knows best'. In short I believe that instinctively the Australian people want a liberal society and form of government and the system of free enterprise as the creative element in the production and exchange of goods.

Mr Duthie - Why did the Australian people toss you out last December?

Mr McMAHON - The Australian people will bung you out; give them another chance now - even you who live on your political life. It is well to remember on occasions such as this that the fundamental economic element in a liberal society - in fact, its basic motivating force - is the system of free enterprise. Let me quote from one of the great political analysts of this century. Harold Laski, a socialist intellectual and a considerable critic of liberalism and free enterprise, had this to say about the system:

As a rule liberalism has . . . been tender to the claims of minorities and to the rights of free association. It has been suspicious of the control of thought and indeed of any effort by government authority to impede the free action of the individual.

He said further:

I do not mean that the triumph of liberalism did not represent real and profound progress. The productive relations it made possible immensely improved the general standard of material conditions. The advance of science was only achieved through the mental climate it created. All in all its advent was one of the most beneficient revolutions in history.

In his words, a socialist's words, but of my own preface:

No one can compare the constitutional and social changes brought about by the liberal revolution and its peaceful triumph after centuries of feudalism and clerical government.

Here follow the words of the author:

Without the sense of wider and more creative horizons of recognition that there is a greater regard for the inherent worth of human personality, a sensitiveness to the infliction of unnecessary pain, a zeal of truth for its own sake, a willingness to experiment in its service, which are all parts of a social heritage which would have been infinitely poorer without them. These were the gains involved in the triumph of the liberal creed.

I am not arguing that liberalism per se has been perfect. Unreformed liberalism suffered the defect that its growing production was not automatically matched by the effective fair and equitable distribution of the wealth that it produced. This was a clear function and responsibility of government - a responsibility and a problem that successive Liberal governments throughout history have attempted, with success, to solve.

I am sure the Australian people want the institution of free enterprise to survive and continue its contribution to national greatness. After less than a year of this Government, the Australian people are sick of ministerial arrogance and contempt of public opinion and the illicit attempts to nationalise large elements of Australian industry.

This Government preaches in the guise of the public good; it practises the art of early 20th century socialism. The people themselves have shown their feelings at the two most recent by-elections in New South Wales and Victoria. They should soon be given the chance to express it again at a Federal election.

There is a second consideration against which this Bill must be judged - the maxim once bitten twice shy*. Speaking to the second reading of the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill 1973, I said of the Government's decision to establish a natural gas pipeline grid throughout Australia:

Honourable members . . . will see that the National Pipe Line Authority has been given the power to intrude very nearly onto the factory floor and into practically every avenue of production.

And of the new charter given to the Australian Airlines Commission, I said that its powers extend, to put it shortly, from 'casinos to contraception'. I was not mistaken. Under the National Pipe Line Bill the Minister for Minerals and Energy has decided to try to nationalise the distribution and processing of! all oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbons] produced in the Woodside-Burmah area of the north-west fields. This, I believe, is beyond constitutional and legal power.

Just as bad, the Government without any technical knowledge of the problems associated with the production, processing and distribution of hydrocarbons has decided that the crudes will be 'acquired' at well head and that all 'down stream' operations will be nationalised under the relevant minister - Mr Connor of all people. To put it in Mr Dunstan's words in a similar context - Mr Dunstan is of course the Labor Premier of South Australia:

Mr Connorseemed to be under the impression that the project near Port Augusta could be established by Australian companies. I cannot agree that there is any possibility of this . . . they do not have the expertise, the technology or the markets . . .

But confiscation and nationalisation have been attempted after the relevant private enterprise companies have successfully carried out explorations and development work at a cost to the companies' shareholders of well over $150m and in an industry that is now operating on the margins of technical skill and knowledge. This is nationalisation of an Australian company with control in Australian hands and with an assurance given to my Government by Burmah Oil that if desired by the Australian Government the articles of association of Burmah-Woodside would be altered to ensure that this assurance was carried into effect.

Let me now make some observations about the existing Australian Industry Development Corporation Act and the changes sought to be achieved in the Bills now before the House. In the Act of June 1970 the AIDC was given the job of tapping overseas capital markets for loan funds, in order to put them at the disposal of predominantly Australian companies so that they could undertake, or participate in, new development or expansion. It was restricted in this way by the father of the scheme, Sir John McEwen, in order to prevent competition for the relatively limited pool of savings in Australia becoming so severe that it would, firstly, drive up interest rates; distort the effective allocation of resources in Australia; and, draw loan funds away from the Australian Government, semigovernment and local government authorities and from the private sector of the economy into projects favoured by the AIDC; and secondly, to reduce the pressure of demand in Australia for goods and services produced here. This was to be achieved by means of command over the money borrowed overseas which was given by the international resources. In short, it was designed to ensure that the Corporation acted in a way that was consistent with responsible overall economic management by the Government.

The new powers which the Government wants to confer would destroy this concept. The Corporation was not given power unilaterally to interfere in the operations of Australian companies. It could invest only at the invitation of the company concerned and it was under the obligation to dispose of ils assets to Australians whenever it was reasonably practicable to do so. Australians themselves - not the Government, or a government agency - were to be put in the position of buying back, to use a favourite phrase of Sir John McEwen, a 'bit of the farm'. Each of these basic features on which the McEwen bank was wisely constructed will be destroyed if this Bill becomes law. I hope and expect that the Bill be defeated in the Parliament.

Next, let us turn to the new powers and functions the Government wishes to confer on the Corporation. The range of government interference in business is extended to cover nearly every aspect of our economic and social lives and of the employment of the Australian work force. The Bill attempts to provide the means by which nationalisation of any Australian industry or business can be carried out without the precise approval of the Australian Parliament and without the knowledge or informed opinion of the Australian people, but at their expense through taxation and the temptation of subsidies. It is to be a carnivorous and undiscriminating institution and will attempt to achieve by deception changes in the processes of production, distribution and exchange which could not be obtained by parliamentary means.

Let me be specific. Clause 5, which seeks to amend section 6(1) of the Act, states:

The functions of the Corporation are -

(a)   to facilitate and encourage the establishment, development and advancement of Australian industries concerned with the manufacture, processing, treatment, transportation or distribution of goods, or the development or use of natural resources (including the recovery of minerals), .

These functions cover a very wide range, are well-nigh comprehensive and now include the natural gas and oil industries and transport. But to make certain that the functions and powers of the organisation are enlarged in a comprehensive way, the Bill provides for other changes to the Act which I shall now mention. Clause 5 of the Bill, amending section 6(1) of the Act, puts in 2 dragnet clauses which provide that the functions of the organisation shall include power to provide finance to any industry or activity connected in any way with other functions of the Corporation and, in paragraph (a) (ii), to engage in any activity that has any relation to any activity or industry in which the Corporation is interested.

While there are many words involved in these clauses, they are unnecessary because proposed new paragraph (ca) of section 7 (2) of the principal Act confers power to carry on any business or activity whatsover. 'Business', according to the legendary Oxford Dictionary means: That with which one is concerned at the time' and, even, 'a matter with which one has the right to meddle'. As I have indicated, this is an omnibus power which could make legal interference with virtually every aspect of our lives. I have said that the Labor Government has no mandate arbitrarily and perfunctorily to nationalise industry at the whim of a Minister or the Government. But in this Bill Labor seeks such power.

Let us turn now to another clause of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and see how it will work if it becomes law. This is the comprehensive and compulsory power of nationalisation contained in proposed new section 8 (b). Under this clause, if the Minister considers that:

(a)   the carrying out of an enterprise or project in connection with an industry or activity . . and

(b)   the provision of finance by the Corporation in relation to the enterprise or project . . . would be in accordance with the policy of the Australian Government . . - that is, the Australian Labor Party, for the time being -

.   . he may direct the Corporation to furnish to him a report in writing in relation to the enterprise or project.

Under sub-section (4), where the Minister has received a report in relation to the enterprise and is of the opinion that: . . it is in the national interest that the Australian Government should -

(a)   facilitate the provision of finance by the Corporation in relation to the enterprise or project; or

(b)   assist the Corporation to engage or participate in the enterprise or project, the Minister may -

(c)   with the concurrence of the Treasurer, give such guarantees as will enable the Corporation to provide finance for, or engage or participate in, the enterprise or project;

Under sub-section (6) (c) these moneys are not to be taken into account for the purposes of sub-section (3) of section 7 of the Act - that is, the limitation on the power of the Cor poration to borrow money shall not apply to action taken under this section.

This power, associated with other provisions in the Bill, relating as it does to any type of business, provides the legislative framework within which the Government can nationalise any industry or business without reference to or debate in this Parliament, subject only to advice from a national interest committee of such people as the Minister appoints, including one person nominated by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. What a dim prospect for the people of this country. A power of this kind should be exercised only with the authority of a specific Act of the Parliament which has been freely debated in this House and in the media and which obviously has the approval of the Australian people. Taken together with the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill, the Pipeline Authority Bill and the Australian National Airlines Bill, it is a clear indication of the gut reaction and primitive ideology of the Labor Cabinet and its members. The Australian public has already been bitten by these Bills and should shy off passing the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill now before the House.

The Industries Assistance Commission Bill is to come before the House. It will add yet another commission to the 40 committees and commissions already established. This is bureaucracy gone beserk and will do incalcuable harm to the Australian economy. No reasons are given as to why these powers are needed. There is no protection to shareholders of companies whose assets are compulsorily acquired as to a just and fair price being paid for them other than that contained in the Australian Constitution. As we all know a government can destroy the value of assets overnight, as was done by the Minister for Minerals and Energy as a consequence of the proposed Woodside-Burmah acquisition. I wish to make another point. In his second reading speech the Minister for Overseas Trade said:

We will work towards more ownership in the hands of individual Australians.

But he did not mean what he said. He was not telling the truth. The Bill does not work towards more ownership in the hands of individual Australians. Australians will have the right, as he said - even be compelled in some cases - to contribute to national investment funds. Individual Australians will not be the owners of assets and property in the way they would if they invested in a private unit trust. In the case of the AIDC, ownership will belong to the Corporation. In the case of a unit trust it will belong with the people of Australia.

Finally, I refer to another power which has received little attention. Spattered about in the 2 Bills and the Act - the Australian Industries Development Corporation Bill and Act and the National Investment Fund Bill - are clauses and sections dealing with the capital of the AIDC, its borrowing powers and command over finance. The Minister has also forecast amendments to the taxation laws. A close examination of these powers will clearly show the manner in which the Australian taxpayer and investor may be exploited by the Government. I give but 2 illustrations. The life assurance offices, which are trustees for the savings of large numbers of policy holders for life assurance, superannuation and death cover, will be directed to invest part of their funds in the AIDC. This will be done by a change in the 30/20 rule under which the life offices will be virtually directed to invest contributors' funds in the AIDC, not in the investments the legal trustees would otherwise choose in the interests of their policy holders. Whilst the AIDC may borrow up to 5 times the capital and reserves of the Corporation there is no limit on the amount the AIDC may use through the issue of national investment bonds - no limit whatsoever. This must have serious and adverse effects on the Australian money market and on Australian industry and commerce.

As honourable members will see, the legislation proposes to give the AIDC and its associated organisation enormous financial power and an extensive range of functions and powers - far too many to be entrusted to a government, let alone a statutory corporation. It is certainly not a power which should be entrusted to a government of the Whitlam kind. I have said that the Australian people are understandably sceptical about government intrusion into private enterprise and business, particularly when that business or enterprise is already being effectively conducted. The Australian people are opposed to legislation by deceit. They do not want nationalisation or socialisation by stealth. They want open government. They want to know what the Government is doing and why. The 2 Bills before the House and others I have mentioned will empower nationalisation intrusion and interference on a grand and arbitrary scale at the whim of an individual Minister or the government. The people do not want this either. I will vote against both Bills and I hope that the Parliament will reject both of them.

Suggest corrections