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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1135


Mr BRAITHWAITE —My question is to the Minister for Trade. I would like to congratulate him on his recent marriage but I remind him that the honeymoon is now over. I refer the Minister to the Australian Council of Trade Unions study tour to Sweden and Western Europe last year which he sponsored at a cost of $85,000 to the Australian taxpayer. Did the Secretary of the ACTU, Mr Bill Kelty, overstate his Swedish hotel bill by $200 and also overstate other hotel bills? Did the Minister's Department pay Mr Kelty's accommodation costs and $1,471 in travelling allowances despite two undertakings that the ACTU would meet his expenses? Did the Minister's Department fail to charge the ACTU the full cost of air travel in Europe for four trade unionists, as agreed? Were any members of the tour paid travel allowances for the time they were absent from the tour or to which they were not entitled?


Mr DAWKINS —The honourable member for Dawson seems to have got his question in just in time before he steps down from the almost anonymous position of Opposition spokesman on trade. I think his very brief period in that position has been characterised by a total absence of interest in the grave issues confronting Australia in the trade area. It is entirely typical that he should be scurrying around in the minutiae of this matter rather than being interested in addressing not only the broad issues that are facing Australia but also the primary purpose of this mission.

This mission was jointly sponsored by the Trade Development Council-a creature created by his own Party many years ago-which sponsors many missions overseas, many of which are comprised entirely of people from the business community, which is quite appropriate in my view. However, it has been the practice of my predecessor and me to ensure that, on appropriate missions, we have proper trade union representation. In this case it should have been an entirely trade union delegation because this mission was all about ensuring that, within the Australian work force, there was a proper appreciation of the needs of industry reconstruction in this country-a reconstruction made necessary because of the vandalism which the collection of parties opposite wrought upon Australia during their nearly 30 years in office. It was not only the inappropriateness of their early industry policies where they decided to protect artificially Australian industry and prevent it from being exposed to international competition but, more seriously, in the dying days of that squalid Government, to have an overvalued exchange rate as their only anti-inflationary weapon which brought about the near devastation of Australian industry. My colleague Senator Button most particularly and others of us have been trying to create the circumstances in which Australian industry can fight back.


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. The question was directed to some very specific matters. The answer is not relevant in any way, even given the flexible interpretation of the word `relevant' in this House.


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister is answering the question. He is quite in order. The honourable member will resume his seat.


Mr DAWKINS —We have been keen to ensure that, at the highest level of the trade union movement, there is a proper appreciation of the requirements. I might say that never, I suspect in the history of Australia, has there been a better and more conscientious approach to this matter by the trade union movement. This mission was proposed, quite properly, under the aegis of the Trade Development Council. Anyone would think this was a secret. On 17 June I issued a Press statement that this mission was going and that it would be jointly funded, partly by the Government, through the TDC, and partly by the ACTU. The proportions were clearly spelt out and the purposes of the mission were also clearly spelt out.

We have this question and this drivel about a series of accounts-a few trifling matters about the cost of accommodation. I can tell honourable members opposite that this is one of the cheapest missions that the TDC has ever been involved in. The standard of air fares and the standard of accommodation were quite deliberately kept more modest than the rules of former TDC missions would have otherwise justified, including those sponsored by the previous Government. This was a great economy as far as the Australian taxpayers were concerned. More importantly, the basis of the initial report that this mission has provided to us-and we look forward to the more complete report in the next few weeks-will identify the requirements of the trade union movement and the work force as part of their responsibility in the reconstruction of Australian industry. The honourable member for Dawson might use his forthcoming holiday when he leaves the front bench to study this report and to begin to think about the kinds of issues which confront Australia in this important area.

The ACTU, as part of its obligation to pay some $30,000 towards the cost of this trip, provided the money in advance. At this stage it looks as though the amount that the ACTU advanced to the Government to pay its contribution is more than will be required and we will probably have to refund the ACTU some of its own money. In relation to the matters which have been referred to, of course I will have them investigated. Of course, the accounting of this matter will be quite properly done.


Mr Braithwaite —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. In view of the reply that has been given, and in order to assist the Minister, I seek leave to table a summary and documentation relative to the excesses of this trip that were prepared as a result of my freedom of information request.


Madam SPEAKER —Is leave granted?


Mr Dawkins —No.


Madam SPEAKER —Leave is not granted.


Mr Dawkins —We have got this information. We gave it to you, you dope. You got it through FOI.


Mr Braithwaite —You couldn't answer the question. Don't you want it?


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister for Trade and the honourable member for Dawson will resume their seats.


Mr Rocher —Madam Speaker, on a point of order: I ask you to ask the Minister to withdraw his description of the honourable member for Dawson.


Mr Dawkins —I withdraw.


Madam SPEAKER —Thank you.