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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3011


Photo of Whitlam, Gough

Whitlam, Gough

Period of Service: 05/12/1972 to 11/11/1975

More information about Whitlam, Gough on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/09/1973

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 3011

( N
EMBARGO: 8.15 P. M,
A fortnight ago, I launched Labor's campaign for Parramatta.
Tonight, I launch another campaign not a campaign on behalf of the
Australian Labor Party, but a campaign on behalf of the Australian
people. And this campaign is not a test for the Australian Labor
Party but a test for the Australian people themselves. And it is
a test for great, important, and vocal sections of the Australian
community. The Australian Government shall, before Christmas,
submit to you, the people, a referendum to give the national
government power over prices. The Australian Government is
determined to combat inflation. We shall all have the opportunity
within the next few days, within the next few weeks, within the
next few months, to see whether that determination is shared by
the individuals and groups who have been so vocal on this matter so
recently. In particular you will all be able to judge within the
next few days, how sincere the Liberal Party, the Country Party,
and the five Senators currently engaged in courtship with the
Country Party, are about the fight against inflation. The acid
test will come next week. We-have heard the Leader of the
opposition demanding a prices and incomes freeze. The National
Government a Whitlam Government, any more than a McMahon
Government, even with so brilliant a Treasurer as Mr. Snedden
has not the power to freeze prices or incomes. The Liberals
know this; the writers of editorials know this; the people of
Australia know this. We propose to ask the people to change it.
to give us at least the power which governments in any comparable
country, whatever their systems, unitary or federal, already have.
We'shall be seeking that power; but before we can do so, we have
to get the Parliament to authorise us to refer the matter to the
people. And whether that reference is made now lies fairly and
squarely with our opponents. We await their declaration of intent.
There are other people involved in this matter, other
people responsible for the course that the Government has felt
impelled to take. I refer to the Premiers in the three eastern
States the anti-Labor Premiers. The basic reason why the
Government has felt obliged to take this course is because of
the refusal of these Premiers either to use their powers the
undoubted powers of these States or to refer their powers to the
National Government. These Premiers blather and bleat about
inflation; yet they would not budge an inch towards helping the
National Government do its job. I acknowlege, rather, I proclaim,
the fundamental responsibility of the National Government for the
economic management and the well-being of this nation. I do not
slide away from that at all. But the Premiers in the anti--. Tabor
States have refused point blank to give us the constitutional and
legal power to do our job. It is because of that refusal that
we now propose to go direct to the people of Australia.

At Ermington, a fortnight ago, I undertook to ask the
Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria to refer this power.
I put the proposition to them on the opening day of the
Constitutional Convention, last Monday. I said:
" The Australian Paradox is that the National Government
is in a stronger position vis a vis the States in
financial matters than the national governments in any
other federal system; but it is in a weaker position in
economic powers than national governments in any other
federal system. There is the matter of prices, for
example. The Nixon Administration had the power to
introduce price freezes. The Australian Government has
not the McMahon Government no more than the Whitlam
Government. There may be arguments about the economic
effectiveness of such freezes, but there can be no question
that if they are to be in any way effective whatsoever, they
must be immediate and unchallenged in their application.
I do not assert and I do not concede that the Australian
Parliament could not enforce an effective prices policy
by legislating under the corporations power. I do,
however, assert, and I have to concede, that such
legislation would be challenged in the High Court and its
application would be stalled for many, many months in the
process. The crucial element of immediacy would be lost.
Unquestionably, the Australian Parliament should have
legislative power over prices, whatever the Government in
office. The Parliament can try to obtain the power by
referendum but that would take some months the number of
months depending upon whether the Bill was passed or rejected
by the Senate. Alternatively, the Parliament can obtain
the power by reference, by some or all State Parliaments,
That is something which could be done in a matter of weeks.
The reference of power could be permanent or temporary.
If, however, the Governments in the two great States of
New South Wales and Victoria, Governments which currently
have a majority in both Houses of their Parliaments, decline
to introduce a Bill, then the reference would be ineffective.
I venture to say that without New South Wales and Victoria,
it would be a largely futile exercise, ' While, with those
two States alone referring, it could be made effective
throughout Australia. If the Premiers of New-South Wales
and Victoria were to offer such a reference, then this
Convention would be indeed a landmark in Australian economic,
political and constitutional history."
But those ? remiers have refused to refer this power to the
national government.
The National Government of Australia should have
reasonable constitutional powers to manage the nation's economy.
We have not got it; we now seek it. The States the anti-
Labor States will not do their job; we now have to ask you
to equip us to do the job.

I recognise, and everybody recognises, that the kind
of inflation we are now experiencing is not only a matter of
prices. There is the matter of incomes and that means your
income, your salary, your wage. The fact is, of course, that
Australia has a highly complex and highly regulated system of
wage fixation. The system is in fact one-sided; wages are
fixed, prices are not. But I can say this, speaking not only
as the Prime Minister of Australia, speaking not only as the
Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Party, speaking not only
as the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, but as the Leader
of the Australian Labor movement if the people of Australia
give us power to control prices and if our efforts to contain
inflation within reasonable limits then fail, we shall receive
the full co-operation of the trade union movement in restraining
wages incomes. But what the trade union movement will first ask
is that the national government and the whole public shall
together show that they are dinkum on this matter of curbing
inflation. If we show we are dinkum, the trade union movement
stands ready to show restraint in the interest of the whole
people, of whom its members and dependants form the great bulk.
I still appeal to every section of the community to
get this whole matter in perspective. The national government
needs reasonable powers to manage the economy. Inflation is
undoubtedly a major problem, the besetting problem of current
economic management. But is it not the be-all and end-all of
our national problems. And indeed it is as much a inter-national
problem as it is a national one. But I long ago determined that
the Labor Government which I head would not be reduced to a
nullity by any unreal pre-occupation. It would be monstrous
if a Labor Government, coming into power after 23 years were to
attempt nothing more than curbing some of the gross economic
defects created by our predecessors. When the Government framed
its Budget, it had to look at the whole range of problems created
by our predecessors, the whole backlog of 23 years of conservative
rule. Growing inflation was only one of these problems. It is
true that the Treasurer could have brought down a traditional
Budget designed to contain economic growth. It is true, for
instance, that we could have renegged on our program.
But what would that have meant?
What is the big new factor in the spending of this
Government? It is on education. I could have starved the
schools; I could thereby have received plaudits for a " responsible"
Budget; and I should have penalised every Australian child, now at*
school or about to enter school not just for this year but for
the rest of his life. I would not have a bar of it.

I for one am not prepared to say that an Australian
child who happens to be in school in 1973 must pay the penalty
for 23 years of Liberal mismanagement or pay the penalty for a
passing economic problem, no matter how difficult and complex
and intransigent that economic problem may be. I am not prepared
to say that Government spending designed to reduce costs or to
promote production in years and decades to come must be
indefinitely postponed, just in order to save money in 1973.
One of the principal reasons why our costs are rising is because
spending in the public sector was postponed or entirely refused
for so long. Why are land costs soaring? Because of the refusal of
past governments to involve themselves in public ownership of
land. Why are transport costs soaring? Because of the refusal
of previous governments to spend money on the upgrading of the
public transport system, and particularly by the refusal of the
national government to involve itself in urban transport systems.
Why are our cities so expensive to the individual and the
family?. Because of the failure of past national governments of
Australia to involve themselves in the business of cities as much
as the governments of all comparable countries have done for long
past.* Why is health so expensive and why are our hospitals
so inadequate? Because the previous government encouraged these
fly-blown private bureacracies and high-flown pretensions of
doctors. I suggest we did not even have a choice about whether
or not we would act on these matters of schools and cities and
hospitals. It was to act on these matters that the people elected
us last December. And we were not prepared to sacrifice yet
another generation of children and pensioners, the handicapped,
the old, the sick, the aboricines and the city dwellers of this
country. We have begun to do the job for which the people of
Australia elected us. We shall before Christmas be asking you to
give us another weapon so that we can continue to do that job.
The times are not so urgent but we are no less sincere when we
again say " Give us the tools and we will finish the job".

Transcript 3011