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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 736


Senator McKIERNAN(6.05) —I speak today as an elected parliamentary representative of the people of Western Australia. Honourable senators will note, even at this early stage of my speech, that the accent with which I speak is not one of a sandgroper. I am, like so many thousands before me, a migrant to this wonderful land. I was born and spent my childhood in Ireland. It is opportune at this time to refute a report that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 February this year. The reporter stated that I was from Northern Ireland. The truth is that I was born and reared in a place called Cavan in the Republic of Ireland, some 10 miles from the artificial border that divides that country.

Honourable senators would be aware of the struggles of the Irish people over many hundreds of years, a struggle for freedom and the right to self-determination. It is a struggle that continues to this day and one that is certain to continue until Ireland is a nation once again. It is a struggle that I give qualified support to. I do not support, or indeed condone, the often apparent senseless waste of human life and damage to property for which all sides in the conflict are responsible. It is often said that Ireland's greatest export is its people. This country has been one of many throughout the world that have benefited as a result. It is estimated-because of past methods of collecting statistics it is no more than an estimate-that some 33 per cent of the population of this country are Irish or of direct Irish descent. Until recently we were all lumped together as one-British and Irish.

A cursory examination of the parliamentary records revealed that 24 of my predecessors in this place were born in Ireland. I am not the first. I was only 16 years old when I left my homeland to carve out a future. I did not dream then, in 1961, that eight years later my wandering would take me to the opposite side of the globe. In 1969 I arrived in Perth as a #10 tourist with my first wife, Jean, and my son Steven, who was then 18 months old. I did not contemplate then that one day I would be elected to serve in the Parliament of my adopted homeland. If I had speculated on that possibility, I would have been publicly laughed at. Who was I to think such grand thoughts? I am the second son of an Irish labourer and concluded my formal education or schooling before I was 14 years old. I started my first full time job just nine days after my fourteenth birthday. The authorities in Ireland turned a blind eye to this fact because of the desperate plight of my family. My father was confined to hospital when I was 10 years old after he was involved in an accident in which he suffered massive head injuries. The oldest in the family was 14 at the time and the eighth child had yet to be born. An inferior social service system ensured that our family subsisted on charity from organisations such as the St Vincent De Paul Society and handouts from friends and relatives.

I have spent some time in giving the Senate a brief outline of my history and background. I have not done so in order to waste time or to embark on an ego trip. The suffering in my childhood has coloured my attitude to life and for this I make no apologies. My formative years exposed to me the classes that exist in our society. I learned, through bitter experience, how unjust and inequitable our Western style societies can be. The rich and wealthy command, control and walk all over the weak and disadvantaged. They organise and exert control so that wealth is further maximised and then blame the poor because they are poor. When the disadvantaged seek to redress the imbalance, those of influence and power use all the forces available to them-forces which include the parliaments, the judiciary and the police-to repress and beat them into submission. The only real organisation outside the political sphere which can or is willing to do anything for the working class is the trade union movement. It does not surprise me now, on reflection, that I became involved in that great movement.

I was lucky, because of my trade qualifications, to become a member of Australia's best and most democratic union, the Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights Union-the Metal Workers for short. This union concerns itself with issues that affect all aspects of the lives of working people and their dependants-issues that go beyond wages, hours and conditions. It is a union which is not selfish or sectarian, concerning itself with its own members to the exclusion of everyone else. It concerns itself with the impact of its decisions on the wider community. Because of its size and position in industry, it has a voice that can and does make itself heard. I am proud of my association and involvement with the metal workers. It is an association which I hope will continue and develop in future years. Because of the policies and actions of that union, my liaison with it will mean involvement with the rest of the union movement.

I am speaking on and supporting the motion that the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's Speech be agreed to, a motion moved and seconded by my colleagues Senator Aulich and Senator Cooney. I congratulate both of them on their first speeches in the Senate and look forward to hearing many more in the future. I remind myself and the Senate of the terms of that motion:

That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to:

To His Excellency the Governor-General

May it please Your Excellency-

We the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

I would be less than honest if I gave the Senate the impression that I give 100 per cent support to the loyalty part of the motion. Indeed, some of my Party and union colleagues back in Western Australia would accuse me of being hypocritical if I did so. That is because at a special Western Australian State conference of the Labor Party in 1981 I moved a motion which was carried there and ultimately became part of the basic principles of the national platform and constitution of the Australian Labor Party. I quote the relevant part which appears under 'B, Objectives', clause 13.

Reform of the Australian Constitution and other political institutions to ensure that they reflect the will of the majority of Australian citizens and the existence of Australia as an independent republic.

I do not intend in this speech to canvass all the reasons why I hold these views. Perhaps it is because of my birthright or perhaps it is because I never want to see the disgraceful and disgusting events of 11 November 1975 recur in this country. As we move closer to the bicentennial celebrations of white settlement in this country, the debate on Australian independence will reach new heights. More and more people are questioning the validity of our links with the Crown and the movement to cut the 200-year-old apron strings is consistently gaining support. This must be so. The reactions of the supporters of colonial-type rule can be used as a guide. We even had a Queensland National Party senator recently quoting figures saying that in excess of 50 per cent of people supported the argument that the present Australian flag should be retained-desperation indeed. Everyone knows that one needs only 27 per cent or 40 per cent to be representative of the majority opinion in Queensland.

One of the difficulties in which I found myself in preparing this speech was that of determining priorities. Should these be Aboriginal land rights, Australia's role and actions in the nuclear arms debate, distribution of wealth in Australia, the forthcoming taxation summit, health care and the current dispute with specialist doctors, uranium mining, the draconian attacks on workers' rights in Queensland, the visits to our shores of nuclear-powered and/or armed warships, the ANZUS debate or the myriad of other important issues? All these went through my mind as possible subject matters. Because I have not developed themes on those and other issues, it should not be taken to mean that I believe they are secondary or of little importance.

Because of my involvement with the metal workers union and the metal unions' campaign on industry restructuring and job creation, I have decided to give emphasis to that part of the Governor-General's Speech in which he said:

The Government remains committed to developing a strong and competitive manufacturing industry

The most important prerequisite for achieving this objective is, without doubt, that of ensuring that the industry operates in a strong economic environment. The Governor-General, in his Speech, spent some considerable time on detailing the economic achievements of the last Hawke Government. It is worthwhile expanding on his words. Before I do so, I remind the people of Australia that what I am about to relate was achieved in just 20 short months, despite the efforts of a few survivors of the discredited and disgraced Fraser Government. Australia's economy grew at an annual rate of 6.6 per cent, the highest in the world. At the same time we halved our inflation rate. Unemployment, expressed in percentage terms, was reduced from over 10 per cent to 8.3 per cent; 270,000 new jobs were created and with the release of the latest unemployment statistics, and using them as an indicator of economic recovery, the people of Australia can look to the future with confidence.

Just how bad was the economic mess that Labor inherited in March 1983? I shall confine my remarks on this question to the manufacturing industry and particularly to the metal and engineering sector of that industry. Figures indicate that since 1974, 152,000 metal engineering jobs have been lost. That is a frightening set of statistics. But just for a moment let us look beyond the statistics. It should never be forgotten that they are more than just figures or lines on a graph. That figure of 152,000 in this case is represented by people, real people, even if they were, in the main, blue collar workers. The livelihood, needs and aspirations of these people were deemed to be of little consequence to the conservative government led by Malcolm Fraser. Why would he or his Government care? They governed on behalf of the privileged few. They governed to redistribute the wealth of this country. They ensured that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. They certainly went a long way to achieving their goal and that is proven by the fact that more than two million Australians now live-no, exist-below the recognised poverty line.

Apart from the economic cost of unemployment, there is also the psychological impact on individuals. Work is important to people. It is more than just a means of earning a living. It gives a person identity. Mike Cooley, in his book Architect or Bee, expresses it much better than I can. He said:

Work is very important to people. Not the grotesque alienated work that has developed over the last 50 years, but work in its historical sense which links hand and brain and which is creative and fulfilling. We express ourselves through our work. We relate to society through our work and we are creative through our work.

The psychological suffering of those without jobs can never be expressed in dollars and cents. Is it any wonder then that the people voted in such numbers in March 1983 and again in December last year?

An international comparison of Australia's performance is proof of the neglect of our people and industry. Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development labour force statistics indicate that only five of the 17 major OECD countries had a worse record than Australia in the provision of jobs in the manufacturing sector in the last 10 years. The decline of the Australian manufacturing industry can be further illustrated by some more statistics. Apart from the reduction in employment, there were fewer establishments, a declining gross product and less capital expenditure. The metal industry was hardest hit. Between the years 1981-82 and 1983-84 gross product of the metal engineering industry declined by 21 per cent compared with a decline of 9.7 per cent in the manufacturing industry as a whole. Our trade figures provide a similarly dismal picture. In the early 1970s Australia's manufacturing exports made up 22 per cent of our total exports. That figure has since fallen to 18 per cent. Further, this country's share of the world market for manufactures fell from a low 0.6 per cent in 1973 to 0.4 per cent in 1981 and our world ranking fell from 13 to 21.

The crisis in manufacturing was not unique to Australia. It was international and affected other developed and developing countries. While our overseas counterparts were developing responses to similar crises by formulating and implementing policies to further develop viable, competitive manufacturing industries, Australian policies were ad hoc. We responded to crises as they arose and in many instances succeeded only in creating problems for the future.

While other nations were giving research and development a high priority, our short-sighted conservative government was effecting a transfer of resources to the internationally competitive exporting sectors like agriculture and mined raw materials rather than to the equally necessary, but less developed, manufacturing sector.

Manufactures is the fastest growing area of world trade. World manufactured exports grew at an average rate of 13.8 per cent between 1963 and 1983, increasing their share of world trade to 60 per cent over the period. A lot of noise was made about what the Liberal and Country parties in Government were doing to develop the export potential of Australia's manufacturing industry. The shallow promises they gave were not supported by action. It is estimated that the direct after tax value of export support to manufacturing, over the last 10 years, was only $30m to $40m per year. Support to the domestic manufacturing market by way of tariffs and quotas is estimated to attract subsidies to the value of $4,000m per year. In spite of this, 25 per cent of all export related employment in Australia is generated in the manufacturing sector-providing a total of 187,000 jobs.

What was the cause, or causes, for the decline in Australia's manufacturing industry? If that question were directed to honourable senators seated on the Opposition benches, even now in the enlightened days of 1985, I would bet-and I am not a gambler-that I know their answers. Indeed, just a short time ago Senator Archer actually spelled out some of them. They would say, firstly, that Australian workers' wages are too high; secondly, that Australians do not work hard enough or long enough; and thirdly, the conditions of Australian workers are too good. Those and other slogans will be repeated parrot fashion over and over again. The few in the Liberal Party who would seek to examine and analyse the problem are quickly hung out to dry by the free marketeers that appear to dominate the coalition. I suggest that the truth of this matter lies elsewhere. I quote Joe Ceaser, the National President of the Metal Trades Federation of Unions-a person who could hardly be described as a left-wing radical who takes his orders from Moscow or Peking-in that organisation's publication Australia on the Brink:

Australian workers, particularly metal workers, are sick and tired of listening to theories that 'free markets' will be the saviour of our industries. The stark, cold fact is that more than 75 per cent of world trade is 'managed' or government-controlled trade and is no way free. Workers are blamed by these theorists for our non-competitive situation in world trade. In fact, the root cause is ad hoc decision-making by management and lack of support by successive governments. Australian research and development have been allowed to wither. Consequently, we now import more and more overseas technology and as the technological gap between Australia and overseas countries widens, valuable trade and technological skills are being lost.

I commend that publication and congratulate the MTF on its initiative in publishing it. I would urge all workers, particularly those in the manufacturing industry, to read it and suggest that it be compulsory reading for all members of parliament.

It is argued in some quarters that there is not a single item manufactured in this country that could not be produced more cheaply elsewhere and imported economically into this country. Indeed many Australian manufacturers have profited greatly by moving the point of production to, for example, the South East Asian region. They established factories there to produce goods previously made in Australia. By exploiting working people in low wage, free trade zones, places where trade unions are banned by law, they achieve the results they desire-larger profits, bigger dividends and gigantic salaries for themselves. But who else profits by this enterprise? Certainly not Australia. We get the same goods, manufactured at a fraction of the cost, at the original price. The total cost to this nation is horrific. We lose jobs directly, and we lose jobs indirectly through the spin-off effects. The corporation gains but the country loses.

In this Government's first term in office positive steps were taken to revitalise the Australian manufacturing industry. The Government set about soliciting industry solutions to the problems which it recognised have to be faced. Avenues of consultation were established between government, unions and employers. Their aim is the developing of a manufacturing sector which is more specialised, more innovative, more outward looking and more internationally competitive as well as, and equally as important as, the provision of job security for its employees.

Special attention has been directed to the steel and motor vehicle sectors and some positive results have already been recorded in that area. There is still a long way to go but with all sides-government, employers and unions-working together the chances of success are greatly enhanced. The Government is also tackling some of the more difficult problems confronting the industry. State preference purchases could be one of the harder of these to solve. I make that comment as a parochial Western Australian. Training and retraining of the employees in the industry is also receiving concerted attention. The Government is looking for long-term solutions. The reliance on imports, as opposed to locally produced products, for short term gains will have long-term consequences for us all. Even top industrialists warn on this. In the interests of conserving time I will pass over a quote I had from Mr I. E. Webber, Managing Director of Mayne Nickless Ltd, in an article in Business Bulletin, dated November, 1984. Foreign ownership of plant, equipment and points of production is one thing that has led to the crises we have seen in Australian manufacturing industry. Australian-based subsidiaries of transnational corporations function as outposts of the parent rather than as autonomous units. They are protected by patents and patterns of production, and are not subject to the same import pressures as Australian companies. Forty per cent of Australia's imports and 20 per cent or our exports are traded on an intra-corporate basis. This is used by many to control key technology therefore ensuring exclusive markets for their products and no competition.

Another technique used to exclude local industry when calling tenders is to impose unnecessary specifications and unrealistic delivery times. An appalling example of inter-corporate protection happened recently on the first stage of the giant North West Shelf project in my home State. The contractors stuck rigidly to the Dutch specification for insulation sand in the epoxy filters. Three tons of chlorine free silica sand was imported specially from Houston, Texas. That same sand is produced in Western Australia and exported from there to the rest of the world. We have heard of coals to Newcastle, fridges to Eskimos, and now sand to sandgropers.

Just to stay with the shelf for a moment, the joint venturers were persuaded, before the project started, to maximise Australian content in the construction phase of the project. They boast about this, the latest incidence being in next week's Australian Business dated 5 April 1985. It is said that 71 per cent of the value of the $2.1 billion domgas stage is being sourced in Australia. A lot of this must be true. The earthworks, the holes in the ground, could not be imported. After having sand kicked in our face, are we now having the wool pulled over our eyes?

Part of that local sourcing is an office on the 16th floor of a building in Perth which houses a man with two support staff. They are registered as a company and will supply a particular type of orbital valve for the project. That supply is recorded as being Australian content despite the fact that this tiny company's only involvement is that it imports the valves from overseas. The article from Australian Business allows the deception of the people of Western Australia to continue.

The general manager of Woodside Offshore Petroleum-the project operating arm-in defending the company against a charge that the project technical adviser, SIMP, a Dutch subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, was standing in the way of technology transfer or restricting access to local engineers, pointed out that Woodside was surveying seven hundred local contractors to pinpoint maximum local opportunities. Woodside is doing this with the main on-shore contractor, KJR, a consortium of Kelloggs, Japan Gasoline Corporation and Raymond Engineers. The questionnaire being circulated to local contractors is a survey on the contractors' ability to bid for contracts. The questionnaire is the toughest seen in the industry, one that will be expensive to complete and, according to engineers employed by the local contractors, it guarantees only one thing-that the majority of local contractors will not even be able to bid on the project. The North West Shelf project provides an excellent opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past. I am referring particularly to its implications for Australia's industry, but it is also worth remembering that it was only weeks ago that the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments had to take dramatic action to save the project and protect Western Australian energy consumers.

I hope that the Defence Minister, Kim Beazley, will ensure that more diligence is exercised when the Royal Australian Navy submarines contracts are being awarded. This project-the submarines-has enormous potential for the Australian metal and engineering industry. Whilst it is not the panacea for all the industry's ills, it will provide a much needed impetus. Minister Beazley and the Government must ensure the maximum Australian industry participation directly in the construction of the submarines and indirectly through the use of offsets. The Government must direct that all the specifications are to Australian standards. It can direct; after all, it is our money and we are the customers. The Government must ensure that Australian industry at the very least is given the opportunity to compete for work on the project. I have confidence that the present Government will show leadership and will not act, like the former Western Australian Premier, Charles Court, did on the North West Shelf, as servant of the multinational corporations. Mr President, I congratulate all those new senators who took office on 21 February this year. If their respective selection procedures were as intensive and exhaustive as the one I went through, I am confident that each of them earned his or her place in this chamber. Being a parochial Western Australian for a moment, I particularly congratulate Senator Knowles on her election. As a woman she must be endowed with exceptional talents; talents that enabled her to overcome the Neanderthal type thinking that pervades her party in Western Australia. One can hope that her endorsement is a signal that the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party is at last recognising that women have a role to play in politics. I welcome in advance and congratulate Senator-elect Vallentine on her election. I admit I campaigned against her and her Party, and would have preferred that my trade union and political colleague, John Crouch, had won the seventh position in my State. Nonetheless, I congratulate her.

I owe a great debt to my friends and colleagues in the metal workers union. It was their encouragement that gave me the confidence and skills to represent working people in a variety of positions, which culminate now in the Parliament of Australia. I look forward to an on-going relationship with the union, particularly its shop stewards. They are the backbone of the metal workers union and it is they who will continue to remind me of my working class origins and who will ensure that I do not get carried away with my own importance.

Mr President, my thanks are extended to you and all who were involved in arranging the orientation seminar held prior to the opening of Parliament. The staff seminars are also of great value.

I owe my very good friend, Jean, mother of our three children, Steven, Donna and Jimmy, a debt that can never be repaid. Jean endured my absence from home for weeks on end attending union and political meetings and conferences while she was mother and father to our children. When I was at home she was an unpaid secretary, social organiser and had her home turned into an office and a meeting place. As I said, it is a debt that can never be repaid. Last but not least, I mention an extraordinary woman whose advice, support and assistance during the pre-selection battles and the election played a key role in ensuring my success. Jackie Watkins, the member for Joondalup, a northern suburbs Legislative Assembly seat in Western Australia, is truly an exceptional person. When she won pre-selection to stand as a Australian Labor Party candidate in that electorate she gained 90 per cent of the vote, one of the highest votes ever in the history of the Party. She won the seat of Joondalup from a sitting member, a seat graded by some of our top pollsters as being unwinnable for Labor, with a swing of almost 16 per cent. Obviously when a person like Jackie Watkins offers advice, one listens to it and acts upon it. Jackie and I were married two months ago, on Australia Day. She is seated in the gallery at the moment and I have no wish to embarrass her so I will conclude.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.35 to 8 p.m.