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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 4214

Mr COOKE (Petrie) - The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has just treated us to a tirade on rising land prices. Curiously enough, he gave us examples only from Sydney. Here in Canberra, where the Federal Government has complete control, land prices have spiralled more than in any other part of Australia. Land in Canberra is leasehold, and the Minister wants to have the. leasehold basis adopted in every part of the Commonwealth. In Canberra nothing other than an ordinance is needed to control land prices. Why has the Minister not done something about Canberra's rising land prices instead of issuing a tirade about New South Wales and other places? Why have, the States that are controlled by Labor governments not controlled land prices? Land prices are rising in every Australian capital, not just those that enjoy the prosperity of Liberal-Country Party governments.

The campaign being run by the Government on the referendums on prices and incomes is a shabby sequel to the campaign it ran last December under the slogan 'It's Time'. No one knew what 'It's Time' meant or what policies Labor was espousing. Millions of people in this country today are reeling under the shock of discovering some of the actions for which they were supposed to have given a mandate to the Government under the silly slogan 'It's Time'. This afternoon, the Treasurer (Mr Crean) used the same bland rhetoric and said: 'Go into a supermarket and ask a housewife whether she is happy about prices.' Of course, she is not. The Treasurer said that something must be done about prices. Of course, something must be done about prices, but it is curious that, every time a Labor Government is in power in Canberra, it finds that its constitutional powers are insufficient for it to handle the economy.

In 1948, the Labor Government wanted power to control prices. The Government had this power in the early stages of its administration, during the war, and wanted to continue it after the war. The Government went to the people with a referendum on that occasion. The Australian people had had enough of the Labor Government, of rationing and of wartime price control. They had 23 years of of Liberal-Country Party Government that brought Australia to a stage of development that was inconceivable in 1948 under the heavy hand of the Labor Government, and that put prosperity into the pockets of the ordinary people. How many people in Australia now own their home who would not have owned it previously? How many people in Australia own a motor vehicle or 2 motor vehicles, a house at the beach, a car and a caravan in the yard? I am speaking not only of good blue-ribbon Liberal electorates such as Kooyong or Wentworth.

Let honourable members go into these suburban areas about which the Australian Labor Party cries poor mouth so frequently, into the western suburbs of Sydney and the western and southern suburbs of Brisbane. Let them walk around .the streets to find out how many people have more than one car in the garage, how many people have a boat on a trailer sitting in the front yard, and how many people have a caravan. They have those things because they had good sensible government, for 23 years. There was no price control and no problems with inflation during that time. There were a few minor problems, but they were fixed with the ordinary monetary and fiscal policies. Now we have a Labor Government and inflation is running at 14 per cent, on a conservative estimate, and rising and the Government says: 'We do not have enough power. Let us do something about prices'.

Mr Kelly - It is courage they need.

Mr COOKE - I am indebted to the interjection of the honourable member for Wakefield. It is courage that honourable members opposite need- courage to offend some of their vested interests, some of the people in the trade union movement who want to use ordinary trade union people to exploit political advantage for themselves. What about all those thousands of workers who were thrown out of work during the electricity strike in New South Wales, their lost wages and the lost production that was involved? Does the militant trade union leadership care a fig about them? Of course not. The same section of the Labor movement is forcing this Government to back down on any sort of control of incomes. Certainly there is going to be a question on the ballot paper proposing to give the Commonwealth Government power over incomes, but does anyone in this House seriously suggest that the Government would dare to do anything about over-award payments and about other things that are mentioned in the Winter report? Of course they would not. What we are being treated to now is simply a charade. 'Give us power over prices', pleads the Treasurer. 'Give us power over prices', says Mr Whitlam, 'and we will fix it'. What encouragement have the Australian people received over the last 12 months of Labor government to believe in any promises or vague statements of honourable members opposite? Certainly they are not encouraged in this direction.

We want to know now in this debate what the Government proposes to do about prices. The Australian people are facing a referendum on Saturday which will change the whole course of their future if they vote Yes, Yes, and accept a vague promise of 'Let us do something about prices'. But it is time the Government told the House and the people exactly what it proposes to do about prices. The Prime Minister has said that he will be selective. Is he going to concentrate on food prices? If so, let us have a quick look at what might happen there. Meat and potatoes are 2 food items which have contributed very largely in the last 12 months to the rise in the food price index. There is a shortage of meat throughout the world and in Australia. Is not the way to combat rising meat prices to boost meat production, to put more beef on to the market? This Government has done nothing but try to dissuade primary producers from going about the ordinary business of producing food. If the Government imposes price control on meat it will become unattractive for meat producers to expand their production. It will become unattractive for them even to continue their present production rates. They will move to other areas that are more lucrative. What will happen then? We will be faced with even shorter supplies of meat and the prices will have to go up for people wanting to buy it. What about potatoes? Are we to have an artificial ceiling price on potatoes. If so, what will happen then? Instead of encouraging production of more potatoes for the market, the Government will restrict the profit margin of the potato grower and discourage him from growing potatoes.

Let us look at some of the other figments of the Government's imagination. The Government tells us that we have had a massive onslaught on inflation since it came to office. It has referred to a 25 per cent across the board tariff cut. I defy any member of this House to produce one imported item that has dropped in price in Australia since the tariff cuts were introduced.

Mr Hurford - I could give you dozens. Tyres, for example.

Mr COOKE - The honourable member for Adelaide is interjecting. He is chairman of a committee which is making another massive onslaught on inflation. In a period of 9 months or 10 months the honourable gentleman's Joint Committee on Prices has produced 2 reports. One is on meat prices, which was absolute rubbish, and another one, which was presented today is on the price of carpet tiles. What a massive onslaught on inflation! This is the sort of nonsense to which the people of Australia have been treated during the course of the referendum campaign. I hope that in the course of this debate we have been able to rouse the Australian people to the dangers of voting Yes, Yes to give these powers to a Government that does nothing but think in terms of vague slogans while it is after the people's vote and then puts the boot in afterwards.

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