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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2279

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - Mr President,we are now dealing with what is perhaps the most important matter in the parliamentary year on the last day before the money runs out. I remember what happened when we were in Government and supporters of the present Government were in Opposition. I remember listening to a series of lectures, homilies, instructions and condemnations about running the country, about how financial responsibility should be exercised and the way one should go about these things. When I look at the performance of the Australian Labor Party now that it is in government I can say that it demonstrates that it learnt nothing about this subject when it was in Opposition and has learnt nothing while in Government. To have 2 Bills as important as these brought on for debate in the Senate on the last day of sitting before the money runs out is, I suppose, the total height of economic and financial irresponsibility.

These Bills were introduced into the House of Representatives on 21 August and were introduced into the Senate on 22 October- a lapse in time of 2 months. I am quite conscious of the great wish of the Government, because the time has almost run out, to have these Bills passed today. One might well say that that is the Government's problem, not ours. We did not make this problem, the Government made it all by its own little self. As Senator Withers, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, very properly said, we have been a much more responsible Opposition than the previous Opposition was, and we have facilitated the process of government whenever we could possibly do so, by trying to be co-operative. In this matter we will try to be co-operative. Therefore, against my normal inclination to debate these Bills at length because I have a great interest in them, I shall be extraordinarily brief.

There are 2 quotations of recent times which are worth noting. Australia's inflationary pressure is building up to crisis proportions. This is the consensus of 3 separate economic forecasts released by business consultants. They say that the Federal Government will squeeze credit ruthlessly between now and next June, even to the point of producing a rush of business bankruptcies; that the Government will have to choose between a rise in personal income tax or another round of interest rate rises; that inflation, already running at more than 10 per cent, is almost certain to speed up in coming months because of excess demand pressures and buoyant economic conditions. When one looks at those quotations, which come from responsible people, one is reminded that the Government has added substantially to its already large problems. In the Budget there was a 20 per cent rise in Government expenditure. There was an all-time high in Government extravagance. The Government has, without any doubt, in my view, already got itself into a difficulty, and it has substantial economic and monetary problems ahead. I am trying to deal broadly with this matter, I am not trying to deal with particular matters because many of my colleagues have matters of particular interest to raise.

The Government has, without doubt, relied too much on monetary policy imposed on other people, and too little upon its own responsibility and fiscal responsibility in its own house. There can be no question about that, whether the Government likes it or not. That is the situation. If it wants to get hold of economic problems and if it wants to master them, it has to act firstly in its own house. The Government is trying not to do so. It is trying to pass the blame on to somebody else and is trying to pass all the remedies on to somebody else. This will prove to be very difficult, before it is all over, but for nobody more so than for the Government. The 2 Bills should be debated together, as was properly said. Appropriation Bill (No. 1) provides for operating expenditure of about $3, 808m. Appropriation Bill (No. 2) provides for capital expenditure of about $ 1,261m. In effect, there is a total of about $5,069m.

When Senator McManus spoke on this subject he raised a particularly important matter on which I have done some work. I would like to see the Senate as a whole, do a great deal more work on it. He said that as far as he could determine the Senate was not examining in detail anything more than about 4 1 per cent of the total expenditure of the Government. I think that figure is about right. It is very hard to be precise about this figure. One would need more time to be precise about it. At this point of time I think that what he said is substantially correct. We are dealing with a total program of about $ 12,000m, and the expenditure appropriated in these Bills is about $5,000m. That is of the order of 4 1 per cent. One must remember that there will be additional Appropriation Bills later in the year. I want to find out, either now or later- it will have to be later, I think- the total scrutiny by the Senate of the Government's total expenditure program. It is well below 100 per cent. I am not sure of the figure. It is above the McManus figure. We need to ascertain that figure.

Senator Wright - It is about 43 per cent.

Senator COTTON - I would want this figure proven to my satisfaction.

I have long held the view that a House such as the Senate, a House of review and deliberation and a House of necessary adjustment, is particularly well placed, because of its long-term characteristic, to identify monetary and economic problems. I believe that it is necessary to look at the total quantum of Government expenditure, not part of it, and to look at the economic and monetary policies. I think the Senate could do this. It is well placed to do it, and it would in no way set to one side the responsibility of the House of Representatives to originate the Budget. I am talking about scrutiny and not policy. I think that we must expand our scrutiny in this field. I think it is very necessary that we do so. There is always a need in the community for economic responsibility, economic understanding and economic management. Those 3 areas are noticeably lacking in the present Government in Canberra which is in charge of the country.

There is to be a referendum of the Australian people on 8 December which is designed to give this Government more power. That would be the last thing I would give the Government. It has not demonstrated any capacity to handle the power that it has now. The great thing it ought to be doing now is examining what it has done with what it has. Do not give it any more until it demonstrates at least some understanding, some capacity and some skill, because those things have not been demonstrated by the Government. If the Australian people fall for the 3-card trick they have nobody else to blame but themselves.

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