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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 1725

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - I think it can be fairly said that this Bill has been rushed into the Senate with fairly indecent haste. The Opposition does not want to be seen to be standing in the way of looking at these things reasonably and in the light of trying to help but I think it can be said that we are entitled to examine its contents with a little more detail than if we proceeded immediately with it. I therefore will make some comments on the matter in general and then seek leave to continue my remarks in the hope that the Opposition will be able to look at this matter overnight and, if it feels disposed to do so, deal with it to finality tomorrow.

When one looks at this Bill and reads the second reading speech just read by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) certain things become quite apparent. One would say to oneself: 'Why all of a sudden do we have this rush to get some extra money?' The principal reason, of course, is that the Appropriation Bills which properly deal with this area have not yet come to the Senate. They have not yet been disposed of in the House of Representatives. I. do not think anybody is entitled to blame the Opposition for this. This is a matter of Government management of its own business. The Government is responsible for any problem of delay created and any problem confusion has created.

In the general situation that this second reading speech discloses on a very quick examination it is necessary to find about $36m fairly quickly to cover various items of expenditure which appear not to have been estimated correctly, or which are the products of excessive cost increases or the product of the Government having done things which it clearly would have known about when it decided to do them. Salary increases of $46m cannot be met from the provision for salaries. Increases to employees of the Australian National University, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and various statutory authorities total $5m and they cannot be met from the normal supply area.

There have been substantial increases in rates of pay. That is true but it is not the fault of the Opposition. It is not the product of anything we have done. There have been staff changes resulting from the restructuring of departments. In this regard one can advert to the fact that this Government has seen fit to expand the number of Departments of State from 27 to 37 departments. It must have been quite clear to it when it did this that it would be involved in substantial increases of expenditure both at that time and later as a consequence. It appears that the Government did not take that into account.

Senator Wright - What was the expansion?

Senator COTTON -From 27 to 37 Departments of State. The consequential effect of that expansion has been referred to by the Opposition on many earlier occasions. The wisdom of doing that has been questioned but the cost of doing that seems to me not to have been adequately calculated or considered. The Department of Education requires not quite $2m of the sum of $36m referred to in this Bill in order to do some very worthwhile and praiseworthy things. There is no doubt, after looking at this Bill quickly, that this is not the reason for bringing in this urgent rush for money at the last minute. That is not the reason for it because that is a small amount and that Department could have been accommodated elsewhere. A substantial amount of money- $9m- is the direct product of increases in pay and grants and bonuses to the various Service departments, Army, Navy and Air. It is the direct result of the Government deciding to give away this money. All I am saying to honourable senators in this place is that we are involved now in an indecent rush for money at what might be called the last minute. It can be only because the Government has miscalculated, has not understood what it is doing and has not really come to grips with the problem of economic and monetary management in its own household. Can one wonder why people in the community are beginning to express considerable appreciation and concern?

I refer honourable senators to some comments today which are worthy of taking into account by the Senate as a whole. There are 3 separate judgments on this Government's economic and monetary situation. They add up to this: The Federal Government will squeeze credit ruthlessly between now and next June even to the point of producing a rush of business failures and bankruptcies. The Government is looking after its own cash requirements by means of this rather hasty measure before us at the moment, is it not? Then the Government could have to choose between a rise in personal income tax or another rise in interest rates. We have had various authorities, both inside and outside the Government, giving the Government advice on this matter. We do not presume to do so.

The second point is that inflation, already running at a rate of 10 per cent annually, is certain to speed up in the coming months because of excess demand. The excess demand is largely the product of the Government's own actions. Five sourcesthe three I mentioned plus two others- have looked at this matter across a spectrum of opinion and have agreed that the Government has made its own task of fighting inflation a great deal more difficult because the 1973-74 Budget was in no sense deflationary. None of the 5 areas of consideration which have looked at this matter of economic and monetary management would agree or are optimistic that price control, as proposed, will have the slightest useful effect. So all in all, at a time when we are being asked to approve this Bill seeking $36m in a great hurry because of fundamental Government mistakes, misunderstandings and economic and monetary mismanagement, the Government ought to have some concern and apprehension about where it is heading and where this country is heading.

The Opposition would simply say that it will facilitate consideration of this Bill. We will try to get it through as fast as we can. We will endeavour to dispose of it in our considerations this afternoon and this evening with a view to trying to get it fixed up tomorrow. Before sitting down I would add that it is a tragedy that we have a Government that so little understands the problem of running a country that this sort of situation is pushed on us at the last minute. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Senator Webster - Do I understand it correctly, Mr Acting Deputy President, that this Bill will be referred to the Senate Estimates Committee?

Senator Cavanagh - That was not intended. It is a special appropriation.

Debate adjourned.

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