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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 3645

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(3.44) —I must confess that we on this side thought that today we would hear from the honourable member for Lyons (Mr Burr), or even from the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee), a sensible position on industrial relations, but we have heard from the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N.A. Brown) and the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). Of course we heard from what one might call the dry side, but we were hoping we might hear from those who may well become members of a future front bench when the Liberal Party leadership is changed. I am sure that the honourable member for Goldstein and the honourable member for Lyons would give a more representative position in terms of industrial relations. The difficulty the Opposition has, and to which the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) referred, is that the people out there have not forgotten the record that they left us with. They have not forgotten that they made a mess of handling the economy, and they have also not forgotten the fact that they have proved themselves incapable of devising policies since they have been in opposition. So not only were they incapable in government but now, even when we have given them a bit more time, a chance to sit back, to sit around the dining room and talk to one another, when we have given them the leisure of opposition, they have not come up with anything any good. They just have not delivered yet.

There are some questions we ought to ask. Where is the Opposition's taxation policy? Where is its industry policy, its trade policy, its exchange rate policy and its wages policy? Now, for the big question: Who will be the Leader of the Opposition to try to develop those policies? People in the electorate are interested. They want to know who will be leading that lot. I suppose Opposition members are interested in that, too, and certainly we on this side are interested because we believe that the Opposition has to develop some policies. It is probably relevant for Opposition members to consider going back to Thredbo and doing a bit more work, because clearly the work they have done so far has not developed anything in terms of an industrial relations policy. Maybe they could go back to Thredbo and prove there is a Santa Claus. He might give them an industrial relations policy, but so far they have not come up with anything at all. The awful truth for that lot opposite is that the people recognise that, and they are recognising it in increasing numbers. They recognised it in 1983, they recognised it again in 1984, and they do so at present. The Opposition has not developed any policies that will convince the people other than that it ought to stay in opposition.

It seems to me that Opposition members have a lot of work to do, and until they have done that work they will not be in a position to present themselves as an alternative government. The difficulty they face is that the people who are supposed to be on their side in terms of decision making in this country are not on their side because they can see through them. The Special Minister of State has already referred to the Confederation of Australian Industry, and I want to refer to one particular view of the CAI. In a statement released last week it said:

They are saying to employers: `Take a chance, trust us. We can give you something better than you now have'.

I repeat: The CAI states that the Opposition is saying to employers that they should take a chance, that they should trust it as it can give them something better than they now have. The trouble is that employers do not trust them. They do not trust the Opposition because they have only to look back to the Opposition's record, which is a sorry sight indeed. At the same time, why would employers trust the Opposition even now, given its current position? They do not know which segment of the Liberal Party they are dealing with. Are they dealing with the group of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) or the group of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard)? Are they dealing with the newly resurgent National Party in Queensland, or are they dealing with the old pork-barrelling Country Party? What is it that we are dealing with? The community is not sure. It is little wonder that the CAI places no trust in the Opposition.

What sort of record does the Opposition have to present to the Australian community? It is a record of a series of failures. The Special Minister of State spoke about the Opposition's failure in regard to wages policy, and that failure stands out. When Opposition members went away from full wage indexation and moved to partial indexation, they thought that might be the solution. It was not the solution because they were unable to obtain from employers or unions any proper trust that they knew what they were doing with industrial relations. There is no trust placed in them now, but there was no trust placed in them when they were in government, so the situation has not changed. I guess one thing they have to learn to live with is failure. They failed in government and they are failing in opposition. Full wage indexation did not work and partial wage indexation did not work, so they decided to go for award negotiations. What happened? There was a massive wage blow-out. They were incapable of getting the lid back on the Australian economy and, in a state of panic, they brought in a wage freeze. So that is the sort of record they have.

What happened to ordinary people in the Australian community? Not only did they have to learn to live with industrial disputes but also we had the sorry experience of losing 250,000 jobs in the coalition's last year in office. Let us juxtapose that with the proposition put by Opposition members who are saying that what they want to do now is free up the wage system so an unemployed young person can go and bargain with an employer for a job. What sort of stupid and ridiculous position is that? Who seriously could imagine that a 16-year-old boy who has not had a job should be put in the position of having to front up to an employer and say: `I have come to work today; this is my first day of work and I am ready to bargain about my wages. I am ready to stand here, with all my power, having been unemployed, and demand to set a wage with you'? Who could imagine a 16-year-old girl being sent out to her first job and having to achieve a fair and reasonable wage from a freely negotiated bargain? What nonsense that is. Honourable members opposite obviously do not spend any time in the work place. The CAI said that they do not know what is going on in the work place. Honourable members opposite do not have to keep giving us further evidence of that; we are convinced that they do not know what they are talking about.

What nonsense it is to come up with a proposition that says that people can go out and bargain freely about their wages. Irrespective of whether a person has ever had a job in his life or whether one is a young person who has his first opportunity for a job, honourable members opposite are saying: `Go into the work place and bargain about your wages'. What sort of a proposition is that to put to people in this country? They will not buy it, because they saw what a band of failures honourable members opposite were when in government. We are convinced of that. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Charles), my friend and colleague who will see himself in a stronger position after the next election, is one of those who were fortunate enough to come into this place because honourable members opposite failed when they were in government. I think many people on this side will recognise that honourable members opposite have had a history of failure and have failed as an Opposition.

Let me go on and point to some other issues. The problem honourable members opposite have to confront is that, in the comments they have made so far about industrial relations and wages, they have not addressed themselves to the real situation that is confronting employers and unions. What is in it? The CAI has talked about the Opposition's propositions as a series of industrial fantasies. The Confederation of Australian Industry has said that what honourable members opposite are trying to do is to do away with the conciliation and arbitration system. The right honourable Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) recommends that; he says that we ought to be looking to doing away with it. What would that offer? What would it offer employers? What would it offer unions? In fact, it would offer them just a situation of industrial anarchy. What would it offer the general community? What it would give the community is the same old recipe of industrial disputes and disasters around the corner. They rejected that in 1983.

The problem with honourable members opposite having all this leisure time in opposition-they have had 3 1/2 years-is that they still have not come up with anything any good. The other problem, I guess, is that the quality of people putting these propositions before us is not good either. That is the difficulty the Opposition has to face. That is the difficulty it is facing when it goes through this shuffling of the deck trying to work out who will be the Leader, who will be the Deputy Leader and so on. The great difficulty, I think, for the community is that it is looking for quality. There is a hope that honourable members opposite will come up with something substantial, but clearly on the industrial relations front they have not come up with any- thing substantial so far.

The problem those opposite face when they are rejected by a body such as the Confederation of Australian Industry-it said last week that the sort of policies they were putting up were industrial fantasies-when they are also rejected by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and by the ordinary man and woman and their children, those families out there in Australian society, as they are, what options are there for them? I will tell honourable members opposite the sorts of options there are for them: They are the options of the extremists, and that is what honourable members opposite have gone for. They have gone for all of those, they have been conned by the Charles Copemans and have thought as the Leader of the Opposition thought when he said: `We want to have a thousand Mudginberris in this country; we want to have Mudginberris all around the country'. Is that not a wonderful recipe to be offering people in the Australian community! Honourable members opposite say: `What we want to give you is industrial disputes, left, right and centre'.

The thing that we learned when we were in opposition and honourable members opposite were in government was that industrial disputes became a daily occurrence because honourable members opposite could not handle industrial relations. But honourable members opposite are now seriously suggesting in this place that they want to return to that level of industrial disputation. The ordinary person out there will not wear that, because the ordinary person is preoccupied with doing a decent day's work--

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

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Mr Deputy Speaker, the clock suggests that I still have two minutes to go.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I apologise. I thought the Clerk was drawing my attention to the clock. He was drawing my attention to something else. The honourable member may proceed.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Perhaps the Clerk was drawing your attention to the Opposition's failures, Mr Deputy Speaker. Everyone in the Australian community is pretty well aware of those, but I will just talk for another minute and a half about them. What I wanted to say very clearly is this: The trouble the Opposition is faced with is that it is now seen as being associated with extremists, it is seen as discredited, it is seen as erratic and it is seen as irrelevant. That is the situation. These are the sorts of people that honourable members opposite have to mix with because, as I said earlier, the Confederation of Australian Industry rejects them, the ACTU rejects them for their record and the ordinary person in the Australian community will not trust them. The CAI says it will not trust them. Why would the ordinary Australian person out there trust them? Why would people out there who are trying to get their kids into jobs want to trust a group which is saying: `We want the young people of Australia to have to bargain about their wages'? What sort of a recipe or formula is that to offer people?

As I said earlier, and as the Special Minister of State has said, we have only to look back to the record of honourable members opposite. People in Australia have not forgotten their record. The clear situation is that their record is one of failure. As I suggested earlier, what they had better do is go and try to prove that there is a Santa Claus in the hope that he gives them a wages policy and an industrial relations policy, because they sorely need one.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The time for the debate is concluded.