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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Dr HEWSON, Mr HAWKE)
(Mr MELHAM, Mr HAWKE)
PROPOSED NATIONAL RAIL FREIGHT CORPORATION
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr ROBERT BROWN)
(Mr HOWARD, Mr HAWKE)
(Ms CRAWFORD, Mr STAPLES)
(Mr TIM FISCHER, Mr HAWKE)
BONE MARROW REGISTER
(Mr FERGUSON, Mr HOWE)
(Mr CAMPBELL, Mrs KELLY)
(Mr REID, Mr HAWKE)
SHARK BAY: WORLD HERITAGE LISTING
(Mr CAMPBELL, Mrs KELLY)
(Mr TRUSS, Mr HAWKE)
COAL INDUSTRY: EXPORTS TO JAPAN
(Mr MARTIN, Mr KERIN)
- DEPARTMENT OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
- DEPARTMENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY
- REPORTS OF THE AUDITOR-GENERAL
- PRESENTATION OF PAPERS
- AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL COMMISSION
- TASMANIAN WORLD HERITAGE AREA MINISTERIAL COUNCIL
- ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
- TELECOMMUNICATIONS REFORM
- JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON MIGRATION REGULATIONS
- MEMBERSHIP OF COMMITTEES
- END OF WAR LIST BILL 1989
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1990-91
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1990-91
Tuesday, 11 September 1990
Mr FERGUSON(8.25) —There is great pride in representing Reid, with its historic Labor traditions. I refer to its rank and file and to the contribution of my predecessors. Amongst the latter was Percy Coleman, who played an heroic role as President of the Federal Labor Party against the Lang forces. Defeated in 1931, his early death was accelerated by the intense conflict between Labor factions, centred on Reid. Local newspapers cited particular bitterness and demanding schedules of public and Party meetings. He displayed a visionary interest in world affairs. His activities spanned the International Labour Organisation, the League of Nations and the Mandates Commission.
Lang himself represented Reid. I will not dwell on a career that involved extensive progressive social legislation and an unfortunate predilection for heavy handed undemocratic procedures. His early delineation of America's growing economic and military power spelled an astute appraisal not understood by his contemporaries.
My predecessor, Tom Uren, who held the seat for 31 years, served as a Cabinet Minister and as Deputy Leader. He was central to the campaign to reverse Australia's subservient involvement in Vietnam. His analysis of the needs of sprawling suburban areas in the urban affairs and housing and local government portfolios merits continued consideration. The Auburn Japanese Gardens, Merrylands Central Gardens and Lake Gilawarna stand as testimony to his emphasis on community open space. His maiden speech covered matters on the current agenda: an airline sale, the Constitution as a barrier to social change, concentration of media control, New Guinea's future and industrial relations.
However, more important than the members of parliament, Reid involves an active Party membership, often at variance with mainstream Party thinking. My persistent connections with them ensure a continued realisation of local aspirations. Our organisation reflects more than an activist circle. The relative size of our local Party means strong roots in varied ethnic groups and different geographic centres. I will not repeat the thanks I conveyed on election night. Suffice it to say that one of my enduring objections in Australian Labor Party (ALP) internal affairs is the belief in inherited power for individual union officials per se. They should earn such power from personal activity outside of work hours.
Fortunately, Reid has had people who fulfilled that role, including two senior officers of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)-my brother Martin and Dick Scott of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union (AMWU)- Peter Connolly, Assistant Secretary of the Commonwealth Bank Officers Association, and Australian Workers Union organiser Tom Blacker, who know that the ALP requires branch secretaries and presidents as well as people rolling up to conferences and raising their hands in delegations. Outside the local Party, I particularly thank Frank Belan and the National Union of Workers for providing a campaign office when I resigned from the State seat.
No genuine representative can really indulge in a fetish with parochial needs. Nevertheless, aspects of my electorate are crucial to my appraisal of issues. I cite some. According to the 1986 census, Reid is in the top third of seats with incomes under $12,000. It had only 16.5 per cent of people in managerial occupational categories 1 to 3. The Australian rate is about 30 per cent. It had high unemployment and a quarter of the work force in manufacturing industry, given a national figure of 15.1 per cent. It was in the bottom 20 electorates for work force participation rates. Reid was concurrently very high for wage and salary earners and low for self-employeds and employers.
Of Australia's 148 seats, Reid made the first 20 for persons born overseas and residents of less than five years. It had nine times the national average of Muslims and one-third more Catholics, mainly due to the Maronite presence. It was in the first 10 seats for South East Asian migrants. Of overseas born residents, Lebanese and Turks were nine times more prevalent, Poles and Russians twice as prevalent and Vietnamese four times as prevalent as the national average. There were fewer home owners and purchasers and more tenants. Given local public transport, the proportion with two vehicles-29 per cent-was amongst the lowest in Australia. For over-50-year-olds, the figure for Australia was 24.4 per cent, for Reid 28.6 per cent. Reid was rated ninetieth in median age by youth. It was in the top 25 seats for residents with no qualifications, most of its fellow travellers being rural electorates.
Recent years have witnessed a surge of rhetoric conjuring up a supposed contradiction between the rights of organised labour and individual freedom. The last session of this very Parliament witnessed many appeals, with numerous references to a supposed liberation that was to occur through increased fines on unions, decreased health and safety rights and specious voluntary agreements. Appeals have centred on the futility of unions to represent individual needs in an era of decentralised workplaces and a diminishing traditional employment sector. Legislation originally resisted by these new found champions on anti-discrimination, freedom of information and safety rules now supposedly suffices to protect the individual in all workplace disputes. They claim union help is superfluous. In fact these apologists are attempting to legitimise the naked power and authority of management.
The moves have come after unprecedented industrial harmony, as a quiescent work force has been persuaded to effect a significant reduction in labour's slice of domestic product and erosion of living standards. These prophets seek a combination of results to totally dissociate wage movement from price rises, further reduce unit labour costs without commensurate social wage gains, and differentiate wages across Australia's industries and between related enterprises. Despite the facade of voluntarism, there would be repressive measures to stymie any flow-ons from new agreements. Superannuation, a long overdue national agenda, would have no new improvements through arbitration.
It is worth noting superannuation gains made through the accord. The number of employees covered by a scheme has risen from 41.5 per cent in 1986-87 to 54.6 per cent in 1988-89. However, it is of concern that only 75 per cent of those with an entitlement were actually covered. Still, in the private sector only 41 per cent of workers have coverage-admittedly, a rise from 34 per cent the previous year. Superannuation would be left to the discredited theories of managerial largesse, so piteously pilloried in the recent grabs by Shell, Westpac and others, to exploit unexpected excesses in superannuation funds. As Barry Dunstan stated in the Australian Financial Review of 7 July, of Shell's attempt to switch $1 billion in assets from its funds:
The 1990s may prove a period of less buoyant investment returns, which mean it is not a good time for employees to move from a defined benefit to an accumulation scheme because . . . the employees bear the investment risk.
This recent example of an employer on my electorate's doorstep graphically shows the realism of industrial relations rather than the pastoral landscapes portrayed by new right ideologies.
The same paper on 29 August reported another aspect of this bright future. In response to valid ACTU concerns of inconsistency in Industrial Relations Commission decisions and a campaign to accomplish the accord mark VI, employers met at the Confederation of Australian Industry and proposed to penalise the less militant unions that had not accomplished their claims. This was the big stick. One questions how reasonable employer responses would be in the absence of strong national industry unions.
Australia's centralised wage system, despite the limitation of the country's Constitution, has meant that firms competing in similar industries are not severely undermined by less scrupulous employers. It has meant that the peculiarities of State labour markets are not dominant in destroying local wages and conditions. It has ensured that, despite frequent government intervention, there has been some connection between the price movements that workers have suffered and their wage packets.
Recent revelations of Queensland's voluntary agreements could be compared to people rummaging through the dustbin and files of East Germany's Stasi Secret Police to get the facts. They demonstrate why the Greiner Government tried to make it virtually a capital offence to reveal details of its much vaunted voluntary agreements. They are simply a recipe to smash conditions and rights-freedom to be exploited.
No-one can seriously believe that understaffed, underfinanced workshop based unions have a serious negotiating parity with employers. The areas of intense labour shortage where that would be viable are extremely limited. The New South Wales Government's recent suggestions typify the suppression heralded by the supposed thrust for freedom. They are the model for Federal conservatives. The 25= May elopement of the Greiner Government with the Gallagher Builders Labourers Federation exposed the humbug of their facade of individual freedom, anti-corruption and respect for legalities. The recent legislative effort was a naked attempt to cast aside any vestiges of protection for the unorganised, the less skilled and the poor.
Amongst the suggested gains that New South Wales workers will experience are the abolition of the annual leave loading, the end of many penalty rates, localised site agreements with conditions below established awards and immediate stand-downs without the current need to establish that labour cannot be productively utilised. Attacks on work site safety rights follow fast on WorkSafe Australia statistics of 200 building workers' deaths between 1982 and 1989. Certainly there are tears and laments by conservative politicians after the more traumatic, newsworthy catastrophes. However, the assault on the building industry's safety precautions in the name of productivity is the reality. It starkly contrasts with Federal Labor's recent safety induction scheme, workers' manual and kit trainers' guide and dispute settling procedure. That the conservatives were going through the motions with the Niland inquiry is shown by the swift abandonment to the dustbin of this limited area for industrial action.
As detailed earlier, the Hawke Labor Government's period of office has been accompanied by a decline in real earnings, as typified by the Treasury Roundup of Economic Statistics showing that the non-farm wage share has fallen from 64.9 per cent of production to 57.6 per cent since 1983. Even from the period 1985-86, the profit share has grown from 14.8 per cent to over 17 per cent. Certainly, this is related to the vulnerability of the union movement, economic recession and government imperatives.
However, it has also spelt out the crucial role of the accord and the recognition by the ACTU of national needs. Certainly, there have been gains such as the Occupational Health and Safety Commission Act, industrial relations reforms, social wage improvements, wider application of superannuation and Government initiatives towards amalgamations. The latter is a desired move of much of industry, albeit by different approaches.
Nevertheless, the principal impetus was the recognition of Australia's dire trade balance and the continued decline of value added goods within our exports. The most recent figures indicating the patchy gains in this sector, despite promised investment with augmented profits, must place continued union compliance under great strain.
We are asked to make the attack on foreign debt and servicing a priority justifying national sacrifice. For how long will the public be prepared to do so when four major corporations' contribution to net foreign debt totals $15 billion? Can members of the public respect the illogicality of moves to privatise Telecom Australia, thus endangering native equipment manufacture in the crucial communications and informations sector where $4 billion of our trade deficit lies and is certain to grow even without this counterproductive measure?
This year has witnessed some positive trends in the trade picture. A March quarter rise in manufactured imports followed an underlying trend of slower import growth and parallels and a 11.5 per cent increase in manufactured exports above the previous year's level. The manufacturing investment has been on a more diverse front than earlier surges. For the June quarter, seasonally adjusted import values fell by 11 per cent, and there were signs of improvement in non-metal manufactured goods. July witnessed a tenth growth in imports, and some commentators feared that this might be more relevant than previous trends because of an underlying reduction in raw materials at hand. Additionally, fears have been expressed that the direction has not been towards new capacity for exports and countering imports but to replace and update plant in existing patterns. Unfortunately, much of it has centred on the financial services sector, instanced in tourism and not internationally traded.
Nevertheless, it has to be asked whether the impact of higher interest rates is undermining the supposed gains of the diversion from wages to profits. How long can the union movement hold the line? While it does, a recent copy of Australian Society reports work on the Australian Bureau of Statistics 1986 income distributor survey by Andrew Dilnot. It detailed an estimate of 19.7 per cent of wealth in the hands of the richest one per cent and 55.2 per cent possessed by the wealthiest tenth of the population. The bottom half hold less than 2 per cent. In that article, Andrew Dilnot also covers the regressive nature of the taxation of savings and notes the amount of progressivity required of other parts of the tax system to counter it.
Additionally, expectations by the union movement regarding a cooperative restructuring of the industrial base, real industrial democracy, retraining, an investment fund to set redirection, et cetera, have not been realised. I cite Vic Taylor in the Journal of Australian Political Economy, April 1990, at page 44, when he noted that, instead, we have the push for `enterprism which pays no attention to strategic level institutions' and would seek `to put in place communications programs and personnel measures designed to enhance micro-corporatist tendencies and to mould enterprise union organisation into user-friendly entities'.
Despite these questions, the accord represents a preferable course to a regime of market forces dominance, wage break-outs, inflation, unemployment and wage freezes. This has been the sad history of conservative industrial relations. The accord signals an attempt to garner diverse forces for the national interest. It contains national wage outcomes in expectation of gains in social wage, trade relations, career paths and investment policy. It represents an overdue initiative to balance economic imperatives with equity. The alternative is uncharted and advocated by people who, today, simultaneously rush to join the Norm Gallagher rehabilitation club. Apparently, his stance of violence and intimidation is to be condoned as long as it serves corporate imperatives.
In a free society, industrial relations must entail a degree of compromise. Without the suppression of liberties implicit in the Howard-Hewson industrial relations agenda, neither side can expect overwhelming superiority. It is, therefore, interesting to note the survey in the Confederation of Australian Industry publication the Employer for July 1990. We all know that employers and unions have wish lists. Both forces have their realists, and I dare say that they would be fairly prevalent in the surveyed group. It is reassuring for our system that 70 per cent of those who thought that broad banding would aid productivity thought change was achievable by late 1991.
Admittedly, on a more partisan subject, such as treating weekends as ordinary hours, only 21.6 per cent of the 45.8 per cent who felt it necessary were as confident. However, any person who does not believe that El Salvador-Guatemala style industrial relations is the best road would be fairly comfortable with figures of 56.4 per cent for adherence to awards, 42.5 per cent for sick leave, 55.8 per cent for new training and 73.8 per cent for multi-skilling.
Whilst there are limited absolutes and all economies suffer international realities, an article in the European Industrial Relations Review of February 1990 indicated a more pronounced development of an accord process. It detailed Sweden's efforts and, admittedly, some of the worrying down side, including a trend to overseas subsidiary diversion of research, the dilution of the solidarity wage policy by profit sharing and employee loans and emphasis on overseas investment. Nevertheless, Sweden's policy has resulted in a low 1.3 per cent unemployment rate, which is a seventh of the unemployment rate of France and a quarter of West Germany. Its wages policy has answered inflation with an equity of wages across industry, forcing unprofitable enterprises to cease.
Sweden's 1988 labour market programs, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, meant a level of expenditure trailing only Spain and France in active endeavours, that is, employment services, training, youth measures and employment subsidies. In contrast, this leads to a situation where, with the low unemployment figures, its income maintenance efforts are the nadir of relative labour market efforts. Relocation assistance for industrially moribund areas has been stressed. Equally, the government business partnership has ensured that prosperous firms direct some employment to deprived areas, and there has been State intervention to enhance socially desirable but financially plagued operators. A series of reports from external credible sources has detailed a combination of very minimal unemployment, constricted inflation and a consolidated national budget. It has been accompanied by a singularly successful placement policy for trainees.
The challenge for Australia is to overcome the constraints of traditional thought of a limited role for government in planning and industrial policy. Unfortunately, recent decisions stressing self-regulation in major resource projects, rather than active government monitoring of local content, appear to be a recipe for minimal gains. A shift of profits has been no guarantee of an expanding export sector. The Government must harness government enterprises to provide management skills, a history of achievement on complex projects and pools of expertise to ensure a reasonable native component in measures to really do something about the value added sector. I am proud that the Budget's industrial relations component has greater funding for the workplace reform program, encouragement of amalgamations, a further encouragement of the integration of our State and Federal systems and work on equal pay and award adherence.
I have spoken earlier of the pressures on the accord and concerns about its future. On other fronts the last election spelled a recognition of Labor accomplishments, accomplishments that the electorate earlier this year knew were threatened by the hostility or mismanagement of the Opposition. Foremost is Medicare. Its establishment in 1984 spelled adequate health care for two million people previously denied. The misery of a United States style system of class based discrimination ceased. This was definitely threatened by an interest group dominated Opposition whose health policies have since been decried in the distancing antics of many Opposition spokesmen. Medicare has entailed a certainty of funding, with an appreciation of the link to the ageing of our population. A massive increase has occurred in the numbers treated in our hospitals. The Medicare incentives scheme has engineered growth of day surgery, palliative care and at-home convalescent care.
In this Budget major initiatives for training and support of rural general practitioners and improvements in their visits to nursing homes and for emergency after-hours surgery are covered. Schedule fee increases are restrained and the gap is to be relative to that which applied in November 1986. I commend moves on the methadone program and AIDS containment. My own electorate has a disproportionately high aged population-a factor of the 1950s Housing Commission settlement, subsequent pensioner unit construction, and transport proximity. Labor's thrusts to widen the options for the aged and extend the availability of hostel style accommodation are vital. Similarly, our assurance that by mid-1991 no nursing home resident will pay greater than 87.5 per cent of pension has wide support from these people and their families. Regional geriatric assessment services are expanded, dementia grants increased by two-fifths and conversion of self-contained flats to hostel style units encouraged. Recurrent funding will be investigated to analyse its relationship with the needs of more dependent residents.
The home and community care program epitomised by recent vital grants to the Holroyd municipality for community transport for respite to carers was a Labor triumph of 1984-85. Australia must appreciate the demographic realities that determine an expansion of domiciliary services over a broad front-meals on wheels, home aid, et cetera-and governments must recognise both here and in child-care that the work force has awoken from willing exploitation in the name of humanitarianism. Increasingly, these industries are being associated with greater training and knowledge, with more standardised hours and career paths. The spread of child-care, so vital to industry policy and planning, with home care, has represented a bastion of underpayment and exploitation. Concern with wages growth has to be questioned in the context of a more informed and organised work force. When we speak of child-care we are touching on another area where the reality of the rabble opposite was exposed in a mishmash of contradictory statements.
Labor, in contrast, could approach the electorate with a 25 per cent funding rise. It could legitimately claim to be on target for 122,000 places by January next year. It retained credibility when it heralded incentives for industry to move into the field and spoke of a priority for working-class families. Many of the criteria used in priorities for government funded child-care centres are very proper and particularly relevant to my electorate. This Budget means a major increase in fee relief and a related rise in maximum benefit. Additional to the 50,000 non-profit community child-care places will be an expansion of employer provided facilities and further private commercial operators. Fee relief will flow to 90,000 new families. The maximum fee relief of $85 will flow to non-renters with one child who have incomes up to $370 per week. The taper will be adjusted from 17c per dollar for one child and 23c for two, to 10c and 20c respectively. The Opposition is somewhat embarrassed by the expansion of child-care places from 46,000 when it lost government to a level of 250,000 in 1995-96. These moves are crucial to Australia's prosperity and crucial to our employment participation levels.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Dubois) —Order! Before I call on the honourable member for North Sydney, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's maiden speech and I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.