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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 4374


Photo of Fraser, Malcolm

Fraser, Malcolm

Period of Service: 11/11/1975 to 11/03/1983

More information about Fraser, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 22/04/1977

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 4374

F86/ 77
I am happy to be here tonight, talking to newspaper proprietors
on a public occasion. I make the point about a public occasion
because I am sometimes accused of spending too much time'
talking to newspaper proprietors in private. Some people appear
to believe I have a great deal of influence over what
newspapers print. They have good grounds for this belief.
You have only to look at some of the highly favourable headlines
that regularly appear in our daily newspapers, editorials
which are almost invariably full of praise for the government' s
actions, or exceptionally flattering cartoon characterisations of
me or my government, to gauge the full extent of my influence.
This evening's function is also the kind of opportunity
that politicians shiould gratefully accept a chance to talk
directly to a large number of proprietors of newspapers
that are published and printed in country areas all ove~ r
Australia. In many ways, a newspaper is the single, most important institution
in a country town. It informs, enlightens entertains; it
often acts as a social conscience; it is always an integral
part of a rural community. You know better than I that
newspapers in rural areas are read as closely and eagerl. y
as a letter from a friend. Their columns touch the personal
lives of their readers much more than a large City Or na-tional
paper could ever hope.
Actually, I have made a contribution or two to the
editorial columns of country newspapers over the years. Generally,
I believe the quality of country newspaper has improved in both
techniques and in terms of reporting.
Newspapers, of course, are not meant to make politicians happy.
There is not a politician alive who would admit that his
only real enjoyment left in life was waiting for the morning
newspaper to arrive. To plagerise some political words of
wisdom, I think I have seen somewhere newspapers are niot meant
to make life easy for politicians. On the other hand, I
sometimes think that politicians were made to make life easy
for newspapermen.

No newspaper can claim not to have had important political
news to write in the last week or so. And it has not been
just surface political controversy, but events which have
been of historic importance. It is a rare occasion when the
seven heads of government, of all political allegiances, canhowever
fleetingly reach beyond partison politics and find
a consensus on an issuc of national importance.
The call last week by myself and all six Premiers for a three
month halt in price rises and a matching halt in wage riseswas
such an occasion.
It had then, and I believe it still enjoys, the overwhelming
support, of the Australian people. There is a national consensus
that the fight against inflation and unemployment must be won.
A price/ wage halt if, of course, only a supplement to the
anti-inflationary strategy which the Commonwealth Government
has pursued since taking office. But there can be no doubt
that such a halt would hasten the success o'f that fight.
The Commonwealth has played its part. We have sought support
from all mnajor employer and employee organisations. We have
halted all price rises by our own departments and authorities.
We have asked the P. J. T. to defer all applications for price rise*
Initially, the Premiers cooperated well, by conferring with
employer and employee groups to encourage compliance,
by authorising their consumer affairs departments and bureaux
to monitor price rises, and by freezing state charges of all kinds.
The -reaction from employers was excellent. There has been
substantial compliance by all price-setters in halting price
rises throughout Australia. At a meeting I had with twenty five
national employer organisations, there was unanimous support for
the call by the heads of government. The-Arbitration CommissioW
last Tuesday recognised that employers had generally agreed to
the price halt.
All that was needed the last link that would have ensured
the success of this popular initiative was some measure of
support from the unions. But instead, what happened? In his
appearance before the Arbitration Commission, Mr Hawke refused
to support the agreement made by all the* Governments of Australia.
Instead he made four proposals -you can judge for yourselves
the merit they have.
1. He wanted amendments to the P. J. T. In fact, the Government
had agreed to appoint a special committee of employers, employees
and the P. J. T. to advise on the implementation of the heads of
government agreement, including examining whether amendments to
the P. J. T. Act were necessary.
2. He wanted a national conference to examine the whole Australian
economy this had already been rejected by the Premiers
Conference. 3. He offered to defer an application for a wage rise based
on producitivty increases this was irrelevant in the next
three months. .13

4. Finally, he wanted a cut in direct taxes equivalent
to the effectof the March C. P. I. increase in wages. This
last proposal was clearly impossible. To use tax cuts to
compensate the December quarter C. P. I. increase would have
cost $ 1,600 million in tax cuts. It is impossible to give
tax cuts of this magnitude and Mr Hawke knew it.
Mr Hawke wanted a price freeze and enormous tax cuts.
And what did he offer in return? Nothing, except caliling
a union conference to consider whether the unions should
forego the March quarter C. P. I. increase.' And even then
he said he could not deliver the goods.
It was reasonably clear at that stage that Mr Hawke only wanted
to break the agreement. After all, in 1973, he and the ACTU
had opposed the Labor Government's prices/ wages referenda,
and taken the position that under no circumstances would the
union movement accept a wages/ prices freeze.
Sadly, and incredibly, Mr Dunstan and the two other Labor Premiers
supported Mr Hawke despite the agreement they had signed the
previous Wednesday. We tried hard to get Mr Hawke's su-3port.
If he had been prepared to give an in-principle commitment to
the objectives of the income prices freeze, there would have been
a national conference. If Mr Hawke and his colleagues could
not speak for their unions, I said I would accept a personal
commitment. He would not even give that. Clearly there was little
point in proceeding since he could not even give this minimal
commitment. The initiative we have now taken is to ask the states to join with
us in an approach to the Arbitration Commission. And we will be
con ' sulting with the states about this in the next few days.
Two Premiers have given their support, and we are consuLting with the
other'heads of government.
All business and other price-setters should hold prices until
the outcome of this approach is known. One company Leyland
announced price increases despite the call for a prices paulSe.
The company's principal distributor Bryson Indulstriesis
however, reported as not intending to pass on the price
increases. This is most encouragi ng.
The Government is nonetheless disturbed at Leyland's attitude.
We think it should be known that. under the Prices Justification
Tribunal Act there is a power to conduct an enquiry into the
prices changes by a company. During this enquiry the company
is not permitted to make any price increases at all. This shows
that the P. J. T. is an effective instrument.
In the national interest, the prices-income halt, must work.
The wages/ prices halt would allow uis to overcome our economic
problems more rapidly. That being so, it i~ s no substitute
for sound economi~ c management. It is no Substitute for actions
that we are taking in other areas of economnic activity
where we have direct control. BUt it was an opportunity that
was presented by the Premiers Conference that had to be
grasped. An opportunity to break\ the inflationary wage/ price spiral.

The move has been supported right through the country by
government, employer organisations, business firms, families,
housewives, trade unionists people from all walks of life.
The wage/ price pause does have clear and strong national support.
Because it has this national support, it can still succeed.
Given events such as the price/ income freeze and the importance
of the economy, it is little wonder that economic issues
are to the fore in newspapers. This however, distracts attention
from government initiatives in other areas. Action, which is
important, but less dramatic.
In just seventeen months, the government has made a number of
significant reforms enhancing the position of Australians
as individual men and women. And moving towards a situation
where Australians can realise their capacities to the full.
We seek to increase the capacity of people to make their own
decisions to choose. We do not seek to increase the power
of government. We seek to give meaningful and effective assistance
to-the disadvantaged in the community and not just to throw
money at a problem andhope for some instant solution.
In the matter of civil liberties, we have acted on a number o f
fronts. A Human Rights Commission will be established.
Its broad purpose is to promote individual rights and to make
sure our laws are in line with the United Nations International
Covenant on Human Rights.
We will introduce a Freedom of Information Act that will give
as a basic and fundamental right access to certain categories
of government information.. The Attorney General plans to
introduce this legislation which will lie on the table of the
House for some time to allow for full and open debate.
The Government has also decided-to implement the report of the
Law Reform Commission on Criminal Investigation. This is
a particularly important advance in civil liberties-for people
detained for questioning, or arrested and charged with a
Federal criminal offence.
There have also been references to this Commission on the
protection of privacy; the law of defamation; and investigation
into the possibility of applying. Aboriginal Customary law
in criminal matters to Aborigines living in the traditional way.
An Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been set up, and the
Commonwealth has appointed the first Ombudsman. The Government
is also negotiating with the states so that legal aid is
provided in the most effective manner possible. We believe
this to be a fundamental right.
Aboriginal land rights legislation for the Northern Territory
has been passed a most significant advance for Aborigines.
Cur predecessors spoke about Aboriginal Land Rights, but we acted.

All in all, this is an impressive list that demonstrates
our commitment to maintaining the freedom and dignity of the
individual. Importantly, it also demonstrates our capacity
to effectively carry out our policies. We are determined to
provide assistance to those most in need in a way that does
not make people more dependent on government. T'o make people
more independent to enhance their self-respect and
dignity, not to destroy it.
The indexation of pensions, for instance, automatically retains
their real value. The family allowance scheme is of incalculable
benefit to about 300,000 Australian families who did not
get the full benefit from the old system of tax deductions
merely because their incomes were too low.
There has been. a re-orientation of child care programmes to
give children of working mothers and single-parent children,
adequate care. In this often controversial area, what we are
seeking to do is to simply provide the circumstances in. which
children are properly cared for.
Our housing voucher experiment scheme that enables people
eligible for assistance to choose their own housing is another
example of our concern for individual freedom and choice.
Realising that quite often government bureaucracies are unable
to provide the kind of personal aid necessary, we have placed
great emphasis on the work of voluntary organisations.
We have for instance, initiated two significant experimental
programmes with migrant communities.
Migrant resource centres have been set up in Sydney and
Melbourne to see if we can get more effective contact with
migrants and get a better delive Iry of government services to
migrants. I emphasis the programmes are experimental, but I believe
they are well worthwhile and I am sure we will learn much from
them. This Government will continue to apply this kind of
approach to individual liberty and to those in need.
We are also taking significant initiatives in the field of
Constitutional reform.
On 21 May, all Australian voters except those resident in the
Territories will have the opportunity to vote on four referendum
proposals to amend the Constitution. Unlike previous referendums,
these proposals do not mean more power for Canberra; they do not
diminish the power of the States. Rather, they are sensible,
practical reforms to meet inadequacies in the Constitution which
have become apparent over the years. / 6

The first proposal is that there be simultaneous elections for
both Houses. It is commnonsense that House of Representatives and
Senate elections be held together. If this proposal is carried, j
there will only be meaningful elections at which the country's
government is at stake.
If the proposal is not carried, we could have four Federal elections
in the next four years; two of which could not alter the
Government. The power of the Senate will be maintained all the
States will continue to have an equal number of Senators; the
Senate will retain the same power as it now possesses to defer,
amend or reject ill-considered legislation.
Simultaneous elections will mean that the Senate will more
accurately reflect the latest will of the electorate. Thus
conferring greater authority on the Senate to review government
decisions. If the Senate uses its ultimate power to force the House of
Representatives to a poll, at least half the Senators will,
themselves, face the voters. The Senate will not be. immune from
the consequences of its own actions.
Some of our opponents claim that this referendum is unnecessary. 0
That if I could only persuade the Governor General to call an
early election for the lower House, elections for both Houses
would be back in alignment. Even if a premature election for
the House of Representatives was in the national interest which
might not be the case this referendum is the only way to ensure
that elections are always held simultaneously in the future.
The second proposal is that a Senator whose seat falls vacant
should be replaced by a person of the same Party and for his full
term. This proposal ensures that your Party choice at a Senate
election cannot be altered.
The balance of the Parties in the Senate can be changed only by
the voters, not by accident or manipulation. Because replacement
Senators will be appointed for the full term of the Senator
replaced,-room for manipulation will be curtailed. There will W
be irio more Gair Affairs.
This proposal has long been a convention. This referendum seeks
to make that Convention law; to ensure your choice at each election
is maintained. The next proposal is that voters in territories be permitted to
vote at referendums. By historical accident, voters of the
Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are
presently denied a basic democratic right. The right to vote in
referendums, all of which affect them just like all other
Australians. This proposal will overcome this anomaly. At Federation,
Australians living in what are now the Northern Territory and
the Australian Capital Territory, had the right to vote at
referendums. This proposal simply restores that right which
was taken away when the territories were created. 150,000 voters
in the territories should not be treated as second-class citizens.

The fourth and final proposal is that High Court Judges should
retire at the age of seventy; and that Parliament should be
empowered to set a retiring age for other Federal judges.
Most jobs in our community have retirement ages, for good reason.
All State Judges are subject to a mandatory retiring age, in
recognition of the fact that old age does impair ability. Judges
are as affected by old age as everyone else. The independence of
the Judiciary is still guaranteed; because judges will still have
guaranteed tenure.
They cannot be forced to resign just because their judgements may
be unpopular with the government of the day. No one suggests
that State Judges who are subject to a retiring age are not
truly independent.
Some have asked why did we oppose simultaneous elections in 1974?
In that year, the simultaneous election proposal was part of a
package designed to change the whole system of government in
Australia as we know it.
Labor then tried to control methods of electing State Parliaments;
gerrymander electorates; control local government from Canberra;
and enable amendment of the Constitution without the approval of
a majority of the States.
Because the majority of Labor's proposals was disastrous, we
didn't want a split-ticket. We felt at that time, that the
only way to ensure defeat of these proposals was to oppose the
whole package. There is every reason to vote " 1yes" on all four
proposals. The States are protected; the Senate is protected
and strengthened.
These proposals were fully considered by representatives of the
States at the Hobart Constitutional Convention and were approved
without a dissenting voice. To sum up: All four proposals are
sensible and practical; supported by all the major Parties;
and were supported overwhelmingly in principle at the Hobart
Constitutional Convention.
They are considered and necessary Constitutional reforms.
22 April, 1977.. 0.. 000...

Transcript 4374