Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 3644

Mr HUNT(3.34) —Let it be understood right from the outset that the Opposition is not against the welfare of the bush workers, those people out in the country who are really doing a great job for Australia. The policy of the Opposition is designed to ensure that there is some relativity between the welfare of the rural industries, the industries in which those people are employed, and their employment opportunities. In fact, this was the whole basis of the National Farmers Federation's case to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

The Special Minister of State (Mr Young), who has just resumed his seat, talked about wages explosions. Let us look at the wage explosion that occurred under the Whitlam Government, when the present Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. There was a 28 per cent wage blowout and it has taken this country years to recover from it. The ACTU, when the world economy was in deep recession and Australia was in the midst of a drought, sought to extract more from the economy than the economy could yield by bludgeoning initially out of the New South Wales Government, through the electricity workers, a 28 per cent increase in wages, which broke the guidelines, and a 35-hour week in return for a productivity gain that never occurred. I believe there was a conspiracy of some sort to break the wages policy of the Fraser Government. It was done at great expense to the workers of Australia. The Fraser Government inherited an economic disaster from the Whitlam Government; let us not forget that. Our Government was plagued by world recession and drought in the early 1980s.

The wages system under the present Labor Government has allowed real wages to increase to four times those of our competitors. If people think that is a sensible wage outcome when we are struggling to overcome our balance of trade problems, they have another think coming. Let us put to rest the quotation we have heard about the Confederation of Australian Industry. On 11 May this year the CAI stated:

CAI welcomes the general thrust of the Opposition's Industrial Relations Policy as being consistent with the aims and objectives of employers and with the achievement of sensible economic outcomes.

All in all the policy represents the basis of a sound and constructive alternative approach to industrial relations. If implemented it will undoubtedly result in a fairer and more equitable industrial relations environment, and a more rational system of wage fixation.

There it is on the record. That was stated in May of this year, just after our policy was released. The shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N.A. Brown), in his address highlighted the Opposition's case against the inflexible, inadequate centralised wage fixation system. He highlighted the fact that the Bench, in refusing the NFF application to have principle 12, the incapacity to pay principle, adopted in the farmers case, demonstrated beyond doubt the Commission's inability to adopt the flexibility necessary to take account of special adverse circumstances of an industry. Clearly, under the existing arrangements of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission special consideration for such problems facing a specific industry will not be granted. There is no doubt that the Opposition's industrial and wages policy is needed to apply the flexibility necessary to prevent the further collapse of the farm recovery.

The farmers' case was of paramount importance. It was a test case. It was a test of the suitability of the present wage fixing system in what are very adverse economic circumstances. We contend that that system has failed. The Government has failed. The Government has refused to intervene because it has done its deal with the unions. The Prime Minister now says that economic circumstances should be used to determine the capacity to pay. Yet, when it came to the farmers' case, the Government failed to intervene and it let the farmers down again. Let us look at the special circumstances of the farmers. The Government knows the facts. Agriculture is at crisis point. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has admitted this. This year net farmer income will be less than the $3,800 earned in the last financial year, which was one-fifth of average weekly earnings. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics estimates that 12,000 farmers are already facing bankruptcy. While 38 per cent of the farmers are said to have no debt, 62 per cent have accumulated a total of $12 billion from all sources, excluding commercial bank bills. This represents on average a debt load of $115,000 per farm, which at the present 20 per cent interest rate amounts to an annual interest bill of $23,000, far exceeding net income.

The Minister knows, and the Government knows, that the wheat, rice, barley, sugar and dairy industries are facing their worst cash crisis in post-war years. The Government knows that the farmers in these industries are facing their lowest real returns on record as a result of world commodity prices corrupted by the subsidy policies of the European Economic Community and the United States. The Government knows that the return from export wheat sales could be over 20 per cent lower next year. It knows that tens of thousands of cereal growers, who exported $3.8 billion worth of produce-wheat, barley, oats, sorghum and rice-last year will have their returns slashed to $2.5 billion this year. It knows that over the past five years the cost of fertilisers has gone up by 49 per cent, chemicals by 32 per cent, electricity by 66 per cent, machinery by 62 per cent, fencing and building materials by 49 per cent, rates and taxes, government charges, by 83 per cent, freight by 53 per cent and the cost of hired labour by 50 per cent.

The Government knows that its rapacious taxing policies, with its fringe benefits and capital gains taxes, have added to the farmer's cost burden. It knows that, by intercepting the fall in world fuel prices and trebling fuel excise to increase Government revenue from $1.3 billion to $5.6 billion, it has increased transportation costs at a time when these costs should have fallen. The Government knows it has ripped about $500m off the farm sector in successive Budgets. The Government knows, and the Minister knows, it has exposed largely unassisted farmers, who receive assistance averaging about 10 per cent-for the wheat industry it is 2 per cent and for the barley industry it is minus one per cent-to the full blast of competition from EEC farmers, who are assisted to the extent of 160 per cent, and United States farmers, who are assisted to the extent of over 100 per cent. Undeterred, the Government knows that the farmer's terms of trade have declined by 8 per cent in the financial year just concluded.

Let us not have this rubbish we heard from the Prime Minister today that this Government has done wonders for the Australian farm sector. It reminds me of what Gough Whitlam once said when things were going badly in the bush. He said: `You have never had it so good'. Those opposite should go out there and tell the farm people that sort of story.They would be laughed out of court, if not hustled out. The Government's monetary policy is clearly designed to quarantine the effects of the fall of the Australian dollar to sections other than the work force. The sector bearing the worst brunt of the Government's monetary, wages and fiscal policies is the farming sector. With 75 per cent of its product exported, the farming industry cannot pass on its costs of production. Farm production is crucial to a slow-down and recovery of the present disastrous accelerating slump in Australia's balance of trade. No sector is more crucial to this country and to the Australian people than the farm sector.

The Government must act urgently to scrap its capital gains tax, its fringe benefits tax and its assets test. It must remove the cost of tariffs from the direct input needs of farm product, it must reduce interest rates to levels comparable with those of our competitors, it must reduce the level of taxation on fuel, it must encourage industries to implement a major market research and market promotion program and it must implement a truly flexible wages policy that will enable our export industries to compete on world markets.

This latest bombshell will be greeted with total dismay in rural Australia and the Government's adherence to an outdated and irrelevant wage fixing system will be not only the Government's undoing but Australia's undoing, if this Government is in office long enough to destroy this country.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.