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Thursday, 17 May 1990
Page: 756


Mr CHARLES(11.23) —I am very pleased to congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. Through you I congratulate the Speaker on his election to a most prestigious office.

It is with great humility that I rise today to address the House of Representatives of the people of this great nation. I am humbled not by the occasion but rather by the awesome responsibility placed on me by the people who live in and are the electors of La Trobe. In recent years many members in this House seem to have forgotten that it is their basic responsibility to represent the people of their electorates and to make laws representing the will of the people.

With my rising today the people of La Trobe send a clear message to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that this Hawke Labor Government has lost touch with the people, with their aspirations, their hopes, their dreams, their pains and their frustrations. It is my fervent hope that in this and future sessions of Parliament we as a body address the concerns of the majority rather than pandering to the dictates of the vocal few and the professional minority groups who so clearly attract the attention of the print and electronic media and through the media dictate the form and substance of debate. It is, in my view, long past time that we listened to the pleadings of our constituents and made laws which address the outpourings of their concerns.

La Trobe is a most unusual electorate. It is arguably the most beautiful in the whole of our nation. It encompasses the Dandenong Ranges and surrounding foothills, with magnificent forests, reservoirs, parks, farms, small villages and only on the fringes, bits of typical outer Melbourne suburban sprawl. We have very little major industry in La Trobe, but thousands of small businesses.

La Trobe is a diverse electorate, both physically and socially. Concern for the maintenance and enhancement of our natural environment is an understandable priority for many of our residents. Because of the great beauty of the Dandenongs, there is an ongoing debate encompassing the relative priorities of absolute conservation, development and tourism. That debate will continue. We suffer from inadequate infrastructure, including poor roads and lack of public transport.

Our people have been devastated by the economic policies of this Government, not least by the blunt sledgehammer effect of high interest rates. The combination of high interest rates with increasing absolute tax load has forced many families into two-income status. The Institute of Family Studies has recently described La Trobe residents as Melbourne's new poor.

There are many policy issues which need to be addressed to solve our economic crises, but none is more urgent than the reform of our archaic, antiquated and irrelevant method of setting wages and conditions of employment. Any system which has as its basis a court where matters which ought to be the subject of negotiation are argued out between barristers and settled by the judiciary must be based on and lead to confrontation. An accord between the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), representing powerful trade unions, and a Labor Government imposes decisions made by the very few through a confrontationist court on the hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of working men and women in this country.

As the Iron Curtain in Europe has dissolved, so must be blown away the power and vested interest of big unions, big government and big business. It has in the past decade become commonplace for politicians on both sides of the fence and the media to constantly use the phrase `the union movement'. I admit to great confusion over the use of such terminology. On the one hand, I thought that the phrase referred to a time in history when the downtrodden and exploited working class joined together in voluntary unions to fight for their rights as individuals within an emerging development of industry and where their efforts were clearly being exploited by owners and bosses. On the other hand, I wonder whether the unions are moving out of the industry, out of the State or out of the nation. Perhaps my confusion is founded in my own belief that in this decade of this century our need to protect the downtrodden masses from the barons of commerce and industry no longer has relevance.

It is clear that management in Australia has many sins of which it has need to repent. Not least among those sins is the apparent and frequent inability of management to communicate effectively to employees such important criteria as goals, objectives, standards and the overall economic and financial constraints under which any company operates at any point in time. The whole game, in my view, is about people and about communication. But while I castigate management for less than spectacular or progressive performance, I must also acknowledge that the system and the club have operated in such a manner as to keep management remote from their people and simple skills in such a simple concept as collective bargaining undeveloped.

If we care to listen to them, the people out there in the streets, on the farms, in the countryside and in the towns are saying that big is no longer beautiful. They are saying that we in this place must give them more control over their own lives and their own destinies. This country was founded by people with an indomitable will and spirit to achieve and succeed despite the odds. That spirit and that will still live and still breathe.

Iron-fisted dominance by this Government, in partnership with powerful unions, has sapped our entrepreneurial strength. There are many thousands of individuals in our country-and I have spoken to hundreds of them in La Trobe-who have the vision and the will to expand or create small business, enterprises which in turn have the capacity to replace imports and create new exports, to help reverse our most serious balance of payments problems. But they have neither the will nor the capacity to fight the combined power of this bureaucratic government and powerful unions. They will not proceed or expand until government gives them the opportunity to settle wages and conditions of employment with their employees without outside interference. Until we take confrontation and dominance out of the system and give individual employers and employees the opportunity to work together towards common goals benefiting both, we will achieve nothing but mediocrity.

I support the right of individuals to join with their peers in trade unions for the purpose of negotiation with management. But I reject the concept of union membership by conscription and I reject the closed shop, and on both points I am supported by a clear majority of union members and the Australian public as a whole.

One score and one year ago I came to this country, fell in love with the country and its people, and determined to stay and make this my home. In just over two decades the changes that I have seen and participated in in the social and economic fabric can be described only as bewildering. Not least amongst these changes has been the breakdown of the family and loss of individuality.

In the industrial relations debate the concentration of power in the ACTU-begun, facilitated and driven by this Prime Minister-has resulted in a tenfold increase in conditions and perks of employment and a one hundredfold decrease in job satisfaction.

My goodness! What are we all about in the land of the long weekend when the ordinary bloke can no longer look forward to going to work? Job satisfaction has to do with participation and self-understanding that a fair day's work has been produced for a fair day's pay and an output which will be useful to society has been fulfilled.

In recent years there has been in the community much discussion of rights: rights of individuals, rights of minority groups, rights of animals and rights of workers in the workplace. The point needs to be made that along with rights goes responsibility.

In that context it is appropriate, I think, to refer to the reformation at Robe River Iron Associates in 1986. That reformation included a decision by management to manage and massive changes to workplace practice. Those changes were not wrought without some pain, but the ongoing benefits have been dramatic. I note an increase in production from 951 tonnes per wage employee per month in 1986 to 2,224 tonnes per month from February 1987 to September 1989-an increase of 233 per cent. Robe now claims it has one of the most highly paid work forces in the Pilbara.

Mr Bill Cole, in a recent paper for the Australian Institute for Public Policy, wrote:

The key to success is to establish the link between productivity and employee well-being, a link so sadly not evidenced in the club system. At present unions concentrate on getting higher nominal wages for their members by going to the IR Commission or participating in the accord rituals. But it is higher real wages which make their members better off and the IR Commission is neither structured nor motivated to see beyond the `money illusion' to the productivity/real wage connection.

Yet understanding that connection is critical. There is genuine `magic pudding' to be had. Employers and employees, by mutual agreement, could both benefit by sharing the fruits of productivity gains made possible by removing archaic work practices, demarcation nonsenses and the range of limitations that plagues the industrial system.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has recently implored this Government to address immediately this most important and basic issue.

I have spoken of the desires of the people of La Trobe with respect to the major issue of conservation of our environment. But how on earth are we going to financially afford to address the environmental issues which confront us, when today we cannot even afford our current standard of living, is beyond me.

I fear for the inheritance of my children because I firmly believe that, if we do not give back to the individual more control over his or her own life and immediately take steps leading to massive revision of our antiquated and confrontationist industrial relations system, our children shall indeed inherit only a banana republic, owned and largely controlled by the rest of the world.

I note with great delight the presence in the gallery today of my wife. I thank her and our children, who unfortunately are not able to be with us today, for their love and their support during a long and difficult election campaign, and in the future as I undertake a new and demanding career. I also acknowledge in the gallery the presence of my electorate chairman and campaign manager and thank her for her dedication and her support. I thank honourable members for their courtesy.