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Wednesday, 4 December 1974
Page: 3154

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - Listening to this debate, one would not believe that this Bill was originally designed to deal with specific matters. As has been ruled on more than one occasion tonight, it is customary for a Presiding Officer to allow the debate to range over a fairly wide number of issues. But unfortunately the debate, irrespective of what one thought of the contributions that were made, was at a reasonable level until Senator Greenwood entered into it and dragged it down to the lowest level of debate that we have seen in this Senate chamber for a long time. This seems to have become the hallmark of his contributions to the Senate, that every time he gets on his feet he must make a personal attack on somebody. On this occasion it was a personal attack on a senior public servant. I will not go over that matter again because it was adequately dealt with by Senator Wheeldon and later by Senator Button. It is sufficient to reiterate that the taxation laws have not been altered one iota from the days of the construction of the Liberal Party headquarters and of John McEwen House, and any of the benefits that may accrue to any person making a contribution today towards John Curtin House applied equally to the headquarters of both the Liberal Party and the Country Party.

The main thrust of the debate came from Senator Carrick, who led the debate for the Opposition, and I want to deal mainly with the points that he raised. It has become a practice in the Senate, I am afraid, for Senator Carrick to denigrate Dr Cairns, the Deputy Prime Minister. He does this at every opportunity, and on this occasion he was criticising the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had seen fit to alter recently the tenure of the portfolios of Overseas Trade and Treasury in this Government. It is not a laugh when the Opposition, which was in power for so many years, itself had Prime Ministers who were excellent at changing their Ministers whenever it suited them. We had no fewer than 4 different Treasurers in the last 5 years of Liberal-Country Party Government. We had so many Ministers for the Navy who were sunk so quickly by the gunfire of their own leaders that we could not keep up with it. This is the sort of thing that went on in their term of office.

Senator Poyser - They had 2 Prime Ministers in 2 years.

Senator WRIEDT -Exactly. It was very difficult to keep up with it, and one would assume that the Liberal-Country Party Opposition would not take it upon itself to criticise changes which take place under this Government. Of course, it is all the more ironic when only a week ago members of the same political party- the Liberal Party- were fighting amongst themselves about who was going to be their leader. Senator Wood made the comment that people like strong leaders, and there are a lot of people in the Liberal Party today who know they have not got a strong leader, and they are looking for one. We have not heard the end of that issue by a long throw.

Senator Carrickspoke of a deficit in the Budget of $2,000m. I would refer him to the Budget Speech in which the Treasurer (Mr Crean) specifically stated that the deficit in the Budget was $570m. This is supposed to be an enormous deficit, according to Senator Carrick, an enormous deficit of $570m in a Budget of $16,000m, in a gross domestic product this year of about $56,000m. It was a Budget designed for the times and the fact that decisions have been taken since then by the Government is nothing new in Australian politics, something done dozens of times before by previous governments, where it becomes necessary to alter the policies which have been laid down in the Budget. Was it not the very Treasurer whom we have now, Mr Crean, who said on so many occasions that the Budget document is not sacrosanct. Why cannot a government at any time that suits it effect other measures which are necessary as it sees fit?

We are criticised because we are also cutting taxation; we have been told that the Liberal Party has been advocating this for months. The Liberal Party was advocating tax concessions when demand was still on the increase, when the very measures the Government was taking were designed to dampen down that demand, and it would have only exacerbated the position had those tax cuts been made at the time the Liberal Party wanted them made. We are in fact making those tax cuts when demand has been steadied, and this is the important point that has obviously been missed by the honourable senator. He went on then to say that this Government is a government of company bashers, we do not provide any incentives to private enterprise, we are out to damage or kill the private sector in some way. This has become a favourite theme of the last few weeks and the last few months, that this Government is doing nothing to help private industry and that all the resources are being transferred into the public sector. On examination, of course, that does not stand up. Have Senator Carrick and his colleagues not heard of the creation by this Government of the Overseas Trading Corporation, designed specifically to help private exporters develop new markets in overseas countries. Was he not in the chamber last week when we put through the legislation dealing with the Export Finance Insurance Corporation, a development of the old Export Payments Insurance Corporation? Was it not this Government that put the Export Bank clause into that legislation in order to provide export bank facilities to private industry in this country to put it on competitive terms with overseas exports? Why was this not done by our predecessors if they are now so concerned about the development of the private sector? What about the market development grants that we are making now to private industry- up to $ 100,000- to help it develop its markets in overseas countries? Was Senator Carrick not here when we tried to put through the Australian Industries Development Corporation legislation, legislation which, with the National Investment Fund, was designed to ensure that industry in this country, Australian industry, is supported by government? Yet we have seen the LiberalCountry Party Opposition on 2 occasions rejecting that legislation when everybody in this country knows full well that an expanded and a stronger AIDC is essential to development of the industries of this country.

If in fact we are as anti-industry as we are led to believe, why was it that only 3 weeks ago the Government decided to work in conjunction with private enterprise for the development of the uranium deposits in the Northern Territory? We could have gone ahead and done it ourselves. That is what the Opposition said we were going to do. It said that we were going to push all the private initiative out and we were going to do the whole lot ourselves. In fact we are doing it in conjunction with the private companies.

But probably one of the most astonishing things that was said during the debate, again by the honourable senator who led for the Opposition, was when he called the reduction in company tax from 471^ per cent to 45 per cent a miserly reduction. It is only 4 years ago that his Party, when it was in government, increased company tax from 45 per cent to 47Vi per cent. It is all right if his Party increases company tax, but if we reduce it it is called miserly. This Government is prepared to forgo in this financial year by that action $128m of revenue and in a full year $ 1 40m of revenue. The reduction in company tax is made retrospective to income earned in the 1973-74 year.

What a contradiction. Where is the argument to support the suggestion that this Government is not fully mindful of the need for a private sector in the Australian economy. Demand inflation was unquestionably a great problem to us in the latter part of 1 973 and early 1 974. It was brought on, of course, because of the mismanagement of the money flow in this economy in the last year of Liberal-Country Party rule, when that Government allowed a massive increase in the amount of money coming into this country without any restrictions. We were caught and we had to take certain action, such as revaluing the Australian dollar and taking some control over the importation of overseas capital. This action should have been taken months before we came to office. We inherited all these difficulties.

Although he is not in the chamber at the moment, I want to support the point which I believe was made by Senator Hall- it is critically importantwhen he referred to the prices and incomes power. This Government sought power over prices and incomes 12 months ago, and at the national level this was an essential ingredient to holding down inflation. We put that referendum to the people and it was opposed by the Liberal and Country Parties because they knew that they would be keeping from us this important weapon to hold down the rate of inflation. Unfortunately the same situation applies at the present time. But I have no doubt that if this Government was again to seek those powers which must be held at the Federal level- they are not effective through the States- again the Opposition would oppose us and it would do exactly the sorts of things that it did on the last occasion. It would put the fear of old Nick into the people and say: 'Centralist power! They are going to take everything from you and put it all in Canberra.' But the majority of Australians, I believe, are now realising that the Government was right last year when it sought those Federal powers over prices and incomes. Unfortunately that opportunity was lost, and it was lost by the deliberate action of the Liberal-Country Party Opposition making sure that the Government's task would be made as difficult as it could possibly make it.

Other statements were made by Senator Carrick about interest rates. He said that people were paying 15 per cent, 18 per cent and 19 per cent in interest rates under the present economic position. If he was to observe the financial pages of the Press he would find that many reputable companies- I will name a few of them such as Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd, Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd, Containers Ltd, Grace Brothers Pty Ltd, Mayne Nickless Ltd, Ansett Transport Industries Ltd, McPhersons Ltd and the Australian Estates Co. Ltdhave raised millions of dollars in investment money in recent weeks at rates less than 15 per cent. This is indicative of the fact that money is flowing to that sector.

Then again there was Senator Carrick 's criticism that hundreds of building companies will be closing down over Christmas. I do not know on what grounds he makes that statement because all the evidence is to the contrary. The liquidity position is easing and there has been a dramatic increase in the Reserve Bank figures, as he will see if he reads them. He will find that a dramatic increase is taking place in liquidity. The Government only recently announced that an extra $150m will be allocated to the savings banks for housing purposes.

I now come to the last 2 specific points to which I wish to refer. Reference was made to the little people. I think that is what Senator Carrick called them. He said that the property income surcharge would be an attack on the little people. To begin with, I want to go back to the time when Senator Carrick made his maiden speech in this Parliament. It was a very good maiden speech. His homework was well done. I did not agree with the content but it was well researched and well presented. But I well recall him saying at the time- I think this was in 1 970- that $8,000 a year was not a big income. An income of $8,000 a year at that time would be about $13,000 a year today. I mention this because it indicates the thinking of the Opposition. Because of the background of honourable senators opposite they do not understand what it means for an ordinary little man, a real little man, to battle along not on $13,000 a year but on $5,000 a year. I think it is lamentable that Opposition senators should presume to understand what it means to the real little people of this countrythe pensioners- for whom this Government has done more than any Government ever did in the 23 years before we were elected to office. The ordinary wage earners, who represent 60 per cent of adult males who earn less than average weekly earnings, are the little people and they are the people whom we are protecting and whom this legislation protects.

The surcharge will not apply when taxable income is $5,000 or less. Those people who receive higher imcomes from property are considered to have a greater capacity to pay than persons in that income bracket. I will give an example of how the surcharge could operate. In the case of a person with a taxable income of $10,000, one-quarter of which is from property, it will add only $69.50 to the ordinary tax of $2,780. That is less than 3 per cent. Despite the surcharge, this person will pay less tax in 1974-75 than he would have paid under the previous rates which applied in 1973-74. So in fact we see a smokescreen being put across the debate solely to confuse, because the legislation is not aimed at the real little man. I think that grammatically it is not correct to say 'the real little man', but I think everyone knows what I mean. I think the Government has ensured that the legislation does in fact protect the little man.

I come now to the matter of the aged persons rebate. The rebate was introduced as a transitional measure to ensure that the great majority of aged persons would be better off under the package of measures introduced last year, including the commencement of the phasing out of the means test, increasing pensions and imposing taxation on pensions. Because of the further increase in pensions since last year's Budget, the great majority of aged persons would now be better off even if the rebate were completely abolished. However, it was decided to phase out the rebate gradually rather than abolish it. Taken together with the reduced rates of personal tax, the reduced rebate will free from tax aged persons with incomes of up to $2,358. The rebate allowed last year, together with the rates of tax then applying, freed from tax incomes up to $ 1 ,92 1 .

I believe that this debate has given the Government an opportunity to highlight the reality of the position and the fairness of the policies that we are pursuing. I am sorry that the debate had to be dragged down to the level it was as a result of the comments made by Senator Greenwood. I attempted in the initial stages by taking a point of order to get the debate back on to the subject matter of the Bill. Unfortunately that point of order was not upheld. However, it it clear that the Government is fully aware of its responsibilities. It is bringing in this legislation fairly, not directed at people whom it is likely to hurt but at those who can afford to pay, which is consistent with the attitude taken by this Government all the time that it has been in office.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Carrick's amendment) be added.

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