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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 1515

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - At the adjournment last evening 2 Bills were before the Senate. I had given something in the nature of a resume or a precis of the reasons set forth by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, in the document to which I had referred, as being the bases upon which judgments are made - or I presume and I understand that they are made - to determine the financial situation of the State of Tasmania. I suppose that by perusing the document one could find spelt out in it reasons which justify an approach in relation to the financial performance of the other States. Having done that, I want briefly to refer to the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), for himself and on behalf of the Treasurer, as an introduction to the Premiers' Conference here on 14th February 1972. In many respects I find that to be a remarkable document in the observations that it makes. One should bear in mind the initial observations made by the Prime Minister at the time and the subsequent decisions made by that Conference.

One thing that comes through loud and clear in the Prime Minister's statement relates to the Prime Minister's philosophical approach to the general question of employment in the Australian community. While I note that the Prime Minister directed his words to the question of national employment on 3 occasions in this document, at no point do I observe that he said he believes in full employment. Perhaps members of the Government will at some stage take me up on that. One would have expected in the prevailing economic conditions in Australia, with the great problem of unemployment that seemed to be the central theme of the problems before the Prime Minister at the Premiers'

Conference on that occasion, that the Prime Minister for himself and on behalf of the Treasurer would lay it on the line as it were, make it quite clear and unequivocally state that the Government believed in the policy of full employment. But that was not so. On 3 occasions he mentioned national employment. At page 2 of the statement he referred to the question of maintaining a high level of employment, not a position of full employment. At the bottom of page 3 of that statement he referred to the general question of employment. He said:

But that is not to say we can turn away from our other high objective, namely to maintain the momentum of economic growth with ali that means for employment.'

I do not know whether one could interpolate into that statement the belief that the Prime Minister was in favour of full employment. I should think he would have said so if that had been the case. When he talks of the problem of unemployment, which, as I say, was the central theme of the discussions that took place on 14th February 1972, he said in relation to being consistent with our objective of maintaining steady growth in the economy that we should maintain a high level of employment. Again, there is no mention of the concept of full employment. Once again the Prime Minister has indicated his failure to appreciate the problems in the Australian community. In this statement, as always when the Prime Minister makes statements, great emphasis is placed upon the factor of wages in relation to the control of the national economy, but it is significant that the Prime Minister gives scant regard to the factors upon which wages are based, that is, the costs of goods and services in the community. Wages are, of course, based on these factors, and they have been. As I have pointed out on occasions in the past, when arbitration courts have been making decisions about the level of wages to be awarded to the Australian work force, they have on more than one occasion made the comment that wages are in pursuit of costs and prices, not set according to costs and prices. In spite of this, we see the Government turning its back upon that view and putting the whole of the responsibility for the economic problems of Australia on the backs of the Australian work force. It is manifestly unfair for anybody to promote that thought in the community when so many people know that it is not the true situation.

The position is that a quite remarkable joint document has been put out by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer - 15 pages of it. Much of it amounts to nothing more than a lot of balderdash. It engages in the use of some quite flowery phrases and adjectival expressions but it does not seem to get to the very heart and root and bottom of the problem that is bedevelling Australia at the present time - of this costs and prices and wages thing- which seems to be judged in complete isolation rather than taken as an element in the whole situation and judged concurrently. I have said on many occasions that this Government's approach over the years on wages and the cost of goods and services is virtually tantamount to somebody putting a dam half way across a river and trying to stop the flow of that river.

Surely we have reached the point in history where we ought to accept that something more than what has been done in the past few years or in the past decade needs to be done if we are really fair dinkum about controlling the economic destinies of this country. The idea of trying to judge, hold, restrain, control, guard and guide the destinies of Australia purely on the concept of wage control has proved beyond any measure of doubt to be a farce and to be a completely untenable situation, especially when there is a proper relationship of that with the costs and prices of goods and services. Right at this very point in our history leading people in the Australian community - church people and people in responsible positions in our society - are drawing attention to the very great problems of the less privileged and the underprivileged people in our community.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - Order! I ask the honourable senator to relate his remarks to the Bill which is under consideration, namely, the States Grants Bill 1972. I think the honourable senator is a bit wide of the mark.

Senator DEVITT - With respect, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am quoting from a document which was placed before the Premiers Conference on 14th February 1972 and as a result of which decisions were made in relation to grants for unemployment

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I do not want to be difficult, but I would point out that there could be 100 different things about which one could talk but which bear no relationship to the States Grants Bill, which provides for a grant of a prescribed amount. What might happen if the honourable senator were to continue in this vein is that the whole of the night would be given over to a type of budget debate which had nothing to do with this Bill. So I think Senator Devitt should link his remarks to the Bill which is before the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - I must uphold the point of order. I think the debate should be more pertinent to the Bill which is under consideration.

Senator Devitt - In reply to the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, I point out that the Prime Minister made obsarvations to that meeting of the Premiers-

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thought you had given a ruling on the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President.


Senator Devitt - With respect, Sir, you have not heard my point of view on ibis matter.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Do you wish to raise a point of order, Senator Devitt?

Senator Devitt - Yes. I do not want to prolong the debate. I can understand the Minister for Health being pretty touchy about this matter.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - If Senator Devitt is going to play the game in that way, Sir, I will insist upon the point of order which I raised and which was upheld being enforced.

Senator Devitt - Do not pull your authority on me.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - I wish to speak to the point of order again, Sir.

Senator Devitt - He has already spoken once, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - If the Minister desires to speak to the point of order which he raised and which I upheld I think he should be allowed to do so.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - If Senator Devitt starts to mix it I will insist upon the point of order which I raised and which was upheld being enforced, but I am prepared to show certain tolerance.

Senator Devitt - Is the Minister depriving me of my right to speak?

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - No.

Senator Devitt - Mr Acting Deputy President, I will accept your judgment when you have heard, as I hope you will do, my point of view on this matter. The Prime Minister made certain observations to the Premiers Conference this year out of which arose the decision to make grants to the States and to increase the loan borrowings of the States for certain purposes. If I am wrong on this I will stand corrected, but I fail to see why I should be denied the right to speak tonight on something which was embraced within a statement of this nature and which was the very basis upon which judgments were made as to the extent of the grants and the increased loan borrowings which have been referred to. I will accept your ruling on this matter, Mr Acting Deputy President. I point out that I have a copy of the Prime Minister's statement in my hand at present.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - It has been the tradition of the Senate to allow a reasonable degree of tolerance in the linking by honourable senators of the remarks they make in the debate on the motion for the second reading of a Bill to the substance of the Bill. The point I am making is that the statement made by the Prime Minister could be linked to a whole series of things. This legislation deals with 2 particular matters, namely, a grant of $15m to the States and a capital loan to the States. That is what we are debating. The honourable senator must link his remarks to this legislation. There may have been a reference in what the Prime Minister said to the subject of health. Would the honourable senator suggest that argument should be allowed on that subject in the debate on this legislation? There may have been some reference to education or 101 things in the Prime Minister's statement. If honourable senators are not required to link their remarks to the purpose of this legislation we could find ourselves in an impossible position because what is good enough for Senator Devitt is good enough for other honourable senators. We could have virtually a type of budget debate on this legislation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - My ruling is that the debate shoud be concentrated on the Bill which is before the Senate. I can quite understand that discusions may have taken place between the Commonwealth and the States with regard to certain matters, but I think the Senate should deal only with the legislation which has been presented.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Senator Devitt should link his remarks to the subject matter of the legislation if he can.

Senator Devitt - Mr Acting Deputy President, am I permitted to refer to observations made by the Prime Minister on page 7 of a speech concerning non-metropolitan employment and the grants which the Prime Minister suggested ought to be made for that purpose and am I permitted to talk about the situation which arose at the Premiers Conference concerning unemployment? I ask that because I said at the beginning of my remarks that the whole emphasis of the measures which are now before us is directed to improving the unemployment situation which was the crux of the discussions which took place at that conference and I was trying to point out that what the Prime Minister said is the justification for the measures which are now embodied in the legislation before the Senate at the present time. If I cannot do that there is not much point in my standing on my feet.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Provided the honourable senator links what he says with the legislation which is before the Senate he is quite in order. But the honourable senator will not be in order if he strays beyond that point.

Senator Devitt - Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. That suits me quite well. I am quite prepared to accept that. On page 7 of his statement the Prime Minister said that at present the grants are set at 2.25m. He was referring to the monthly grant provided to the States for unemployment. I am quoting from the document from which I started to quote earlier. He went on to say:

We believe that this amount could be-

I emphasise the words 'could be' - increased as from today, 14th February 1972, to a rate of $4m per month.

It is significant to recall that in their consideration of this matter the Premiers apparently prevailed upon the Prime Minister to ensure that the increase in these grants was not approximately 78 per cent, which the Prime Minister had suggested ought to be the amount, but in fact double. It finished up at 100 per cent. If that is not an acknowledgement of a serious economic situation in sections of the community, I do not know what is. As I have said, what was decided on that occasion was that other things in the way of increased borrowings for local government and semi-government instrumentalities in the metropolitan areas, which are referred to specifically in the Bill, provided an opportunity for the amelioration of the suffering of distress and hardship of people in the Australian community. In the first instance the grants which were provided were for the relief of the problems which existed in the nonmetropolitan areas. This had a relationship, which I fancy from memory the second reading speech of the Minister touched upon, to the downturn in the economic circumstances in the rural areas of the community. We have spoken at very great length on this subject from time to time.

One can appreciate that the Government does have substantial difficulties in relation to the primary industry sector of the community and that it has taken measures which it believes, and I sincerely accept this, would relieve these problems. The fact that it had not done so on this occasion led to the rather urgent conference which took place on 14th February and at which decisions were reached to increase substantially the grants for this purpose and to provide a means to the semi-government and local government instrumentalities in the urban and city areas also to provide a measure of unemployment relief. But surely this must be a terrible waste of funds, lt is not well planned. The whole thing is designed to relieve pockets of unemployment where they have occurred almost directly as a result of the bungling of the Government in its policy laid down in the Budget last August. This is the situation which we face today.

The Australian Labor Party is not opposed to these measures but we do believe that there has to be a proper acceptance of the relationship that exists between employment and the cost of goods and services. Too many good Australian families in this community of ours are not getting sufficient of this world's goods while a limited number of people are getting too many. It is a question of distribution of the national wealth so that the whole of the Australian community is served and so that the benefit is not confined to the relative few who already have their share. It is a matter of, to them that hath shall be given, and to them that hath not shall be taken away.

I sincerely hope that what we have proposed here will result in some improvement in the circumstances of the have nots. It is not really a very funny matter for those people who are suffering hardship, who have families and who are not able to put those little things on the table that one would expect in this day of enlightenment, in this age, in this technological era when we hear so much about the benefits derived from what is happening in this community of ours being passed on to the community at large. This is not demonstrated to be so. No doubt this situation will be patched up. I have seen tradesmen working under these unemployment grants in a capacity which is not suited to their particular skills. How wasteful it is when we find somebody who is trained in a particular skill but whose services are not being used in that capacity. Surely this must be wasteful. If we have any sense of responsibility in relation to our obligations to the society around us there ought to be, and there has to be, a complete right across the board look at what is happening in the Australian community so that we have something in the way of an evening out.

Senator Gair - The people themselves have to be responsible.

Senator DEVITT - Yes, the whole community, but-

Senator Gair - Do you read the TAB records?

Senator DEVITT - I do not bet.

Senator Gair - Do you read the reports of the amount of money going into poker machines?

Senator DEVITT - No, I do not. I suggest to the honourable senator that if it is judged that there is something less than a full measure of responsibility in high places, one can hardly expect -

Senator Gair - You cannot get more than a pint out of a pint pot.

Senator DEVITT - I do not drink pint pots, so I would not know. While we on this side of the chamber approve these measures we feel that a more responsible attitude has to be taken to the whole general question of the affairs of the people in the Australian community.

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