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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4299

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The House has just been privileged, I suppose, to hear an address on economics by the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards) who I understand had the most esteemed position of professor of economics before he entered this Parliament. However, his speech on this matter leads me to believe - and I am sure those who listened to him would believe - that since coming here he has degenerated to nothing better than a party hack. The stumbling way in which he put his case to this House leaves one in no doubt that he either knows nothing about the subject with which he was expected to deal or else he does not believe in the cause and speaks with tongue in cheek. He says that the economy is in a mess. I am sure that as a professor of economics the honourable gentleman will know that the economy of a nation like Australia cannot be likened to a Holden motor car that can be started and stopped at will. Rather, it is like the boiler of a locomotive that takes some time to build up steam and some time to run down.

As the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has told us on so many occasions, we inherited an economy that was 'bad. This debate started out with a reference to a shortage of goods in the community and the inconveniences and disruptions caused by those shortages. The right honourable the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), who I have been told is not much of a farmer and proves himself no better as a politician, put to us that the debate related only to the prices and incomes referendum which, is due to be dealt with next Saturday. He made a rather curious statement - an argument that I found very difficult to follow - when he said: 'If you control prices you will create shortages of goods. People will not produce.' I am wondering how deeply he believes in the private enterprise system because I have always believed that those who believe in the private enterprise system support it because its guiding light is profit.

A company which started in Melbourne very many years ago is now a very successful retailer throughout Australia. I refer to G. J. Coles and Co. Ltd, without wishing to give any free advertisement. It started out on the basis of a very small profit and a very big turnover of goods. It has been successful. Does the right honourable gentleman want this House to believe that restricting the amount of profits that people can make will cause them to cease production - that they will limit the supply of goods and will not do their utmost to maximise their capital investment in their machinery and their labour? Of course they will. The control of prices has nothing to do with this. We have heard many catch-cries on this subject. Have not we heard the mechanical intonation from >a gentleman who shall not be named who tells this House about the continuing industrial fermentation in this country? How often have we heard it? Never does he support it. Even today when the honourable member for Berowra was speaking he could not help but use another cliche that has become one of the crutches of the ailing Liberal Party. High inflation is a social evil, he says. Perhaps it is an axiomatic statement but does he expect people to believe it because he says it? Does not he believe that they are entitled to an explanation? Is it ever given?

One of the other comments of the learned and honourable member for Berowra was that because there is a shortage of labour there is a shortage of goods. The honourable member was not in this place when the previous Government brought down a Budget that placed 130,000 Australian people on the labour market. There were 130,000 people who were denied the right to produce goods and services. This adds up to 200 million man-hours of production lost in one year. That was done by the stroke of a pen to get the previous incompetent Government out of some sort of difficulty in which it found itself. There was an election looming in December 1972 and it lost. But one of the prices that the people of Australia had to pay was that 130,000 people were denied work at some time for a whole year. Labor has corrected that situation. There are now more job vacancies than there are people to fill them. Yet honourable members opposite still complain about labour shortages. Where is their consistency? Did honourable members opposite raise the fact that by the stroke of a pen their Government denied the production of goods and services in this country to the tune of 200 million manhours in one year? Honourable members opposite cannot deny that.

Mr Bourchier - There are 80,000 out of work now.

Mr SPEAKER -Order!The honourable member will cease Mr SPEAKER-Order!The honourable member will cease interjecting.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Hisinterjections are so puerile that they are not worth acknowledging. The honourable member for Berowra spoke about a shortage of building materials and a shortage of consumer durable goods including furniture and furnishings. Would the honourable member like to know where those excess materials have gone? Would he like to take a tour of the cities of Melbourne and Sydney? Would be like to walk around and see the high rise office buildings which have been constructed for investment purposes by entrepreneurs in the hope of making profits in the future? Those buildings are lying idle. They are not occupied. They were constructed with the same sorts of materials that are used to build houses such as steel, bricks and concrete. They have furnishings, carpets, curtains, desks and chairs but they are not being used. Does the honourable gentleman know that they exist? Is not that part of the reason for the shortage of building materials? He talks about the shortage of manpower. It takes men to construct buildings, too. Whilst men are erecting these high rise buildings in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney they cannot be erecting villas in which workers can live. That is how the shortage of building materials comes about. I move back quickly to the high price of food. One of the highest priced food commodities that my wife buys is meat. The reason that she has to pay so much for meat is that the local butcher who supplies her must compete with overseas buyers for the meat that we eat. Will the Australian Country Party stand up and be honest about this? The honourable gentleman who claims to represent the farmers of Australia will not come into this House and tell us that he will be prepared to support a proposition to ban the export of Australian meat to ensure that the price to consumers drops. Of course he will not. Yet that action would be a logical solution to the problem and everybody knows it. The man in the street knows it, but the erudite gentlemen who sit opposite do not. When we talk of the shortage of manpower we are really talking about the shortage of tradesmen in Australia. How did we get a shortage of tradesmen? I shall tell honourable members: We have this shortage because the previous Government had a policy of employing contractors on its jobs rather than training its own tradesmen. The effect of this flowed through to industry generally. Contractors had to compete with one another to get the jobs. This procedure was justified on the basis of saying: 'We got the job done as cheaply as we could'. But did the previous Government look at the longterm social consequences to Australia? No, it never did.

Because the contractors had to cut corners and get the job done as cheaply as they could to compete with their fellow-contractors they were not in a position to spend the money that was necessary to be spent to train tradesmen. So the previous Government imported fully-fledged tradesmen from overseas. Now we suffer from a chronic shortage of Australian born tradesmen trained in Australia for Australian conditions. Why? Because of the bad management of the previous Government. The Opposition members stand up here today and speak with their tongues in their cheeks as only members of the Liberal Party or members of the Australian Country Party can speak with tongues in cheeks. They have done it and they have tried to convince this House and this nation that what they did was right and that what this Government is doing is wrong. History will show them and the people will show them the next time that we go to our masters just who was right and who was wrong. There is no doubt in my mind that the people of Australia today support more than ever before, more than in December 1972, the measures taken by the Australian Government and will continue to support them. As long as there is a Labor Government in Australia there will be stability and industry will know where it is going because there will be proper planning.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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