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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1110

Senator DEVLIN(10.15) —Thank you, Mr President. I rise to make my first speech in this chamber and in doing so I hope to address those issues that I intend to pursue in the future in this Senate, hopefully with the full support of my fellow senators. I have been elected to this Senate by the people of Tasmania but on nearly every major issue their interests are the same as those of all other Australians and their concerns are the same as all other Australians. I come to the Senate with many years of experience as a working man and as a trade union official. Most of my working life has been devoted to furthering the cause of the ordinary working man, through my involvement in both the Australian Labor Party and the union movement.

I was born in Burnie on Tasmania's north-west coast. I left school when I was 14 to take a job at Rosebery, which is a mining town, and to get a job underground I had to put my age up to 19. I worked as a miner there for four and a half years. I then gained membership of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia and worked as a waterside worker for the next 33 years and 11 months, until my election to the Senate. I have always been very proud of my association with the Waterside Workers Federation. It is a union that has been a trend setter in winning better conditions for the working man. Many of the campaigns successfully fought by that union resulted in improved conditions, which in turn led to better conditions for all Australian workers.

As well as seeing positive improvements occur I have witnessed changes that have been less pleasing. I have seen increased reliance placed on machines taking the jobs of waterside workers. At the port of Burnie where I have always worked I have seen the number of waterside workers dwindle from 400 to just 73. I have also seen the physical dangers that have come with these machines. In the last four years, four of my comrades have died in accidents on the Burnie waterfront, including my brother earlier this year. Such experiences have led me to the view that the survival of the working man depends on the trade union movement resisting changes that run counter to the best interests of the worker. For example, often workers lose their jobs so that the boss can give work to friends or even friends of friends. It is these sorts of injustices that the union stands against.

I find it amazing that honourable senators opposite continue to criticise trade unions, but do not criticise doctors and lawyers who have unions that are much more powerful, as illustrated by the recent experiences in New South Wales. Employer associations such as the chambers of manufacture, industry and commerce receive much more funding from their members than do trade unions. I have also seen capitalists abuse the privileges that they have to the detriment of the workers and the economy. The abuses of the practice of overtime is a case in point. As I have said, in Burnie the number of waterside workers has dwindled from 400 to 73. Part of the reason for this is that companies prefer to pay workers overtime rather than employing staff who would receive holiday pay, long service leave and sick leave.

The result of this is often unsatisfactory. Only recently I saw a situation in Burnie where ships were lying idle for three days because waterside workers were engaged in other work on other ships. These workers often work double shifts-sometimes up to four times a week. This situation is not exclusive to the Burnie waterfront; it happens in many industries all over Australia.

I do not intend for one minute to suggest that industries should not make money. They have to make money, otherwise they will not employ anyone. At the same time they have to play their part. If there is work there, they should employ unemployed people rather than make their present employees work double shifts.

Apart from the fact that overtime contributes to the unemployment problem, it is also the cause of marriage break-up. It keeps parents away from their spouses and children for unnaturally long periods. Thus, it is the cause of undesirable social problems. The problem, however, is that many workers depend on overtime to top up their wages. Without it many would live below the poverty line. Nowhere is this more apparent than here at Parliament House where so many of the staff who keep this place together are paid ridiculously low wages. Only overtime brings their wages to a reasonable level. The answer is not to give people overtime but to pay them a decent wage so that they do not need overtime. Then the extra work can be given to those people who are unemployed. I know the day-to-day struggles that working people have to endure to survive. I know the hardships faced by the family man who has lost his job or had his job taken from him and the immense difficulties he has in trying to provide for his family in an environment where little work, if any, is available. Thus, when I speak on these matters and relevant issues I hope that my fellow senators recognise my qualifications in this field.

Let me now turn to some of the issues which I believe we should be addressing with sincerity, urgency and a desire to correct. They are issues which should be in the forefront of not just honourable senator's minds but the minds of all parliaments and governments throughout Australia. The first such issue I turn to is unemployment. In spite of the lip service that everyone pays to this problem it is one which I believe those of us in this chamber as well as those in the other House have done little about. It is a problem that cannot be adequately understood by mere reference to statistics because behind those statistics lie people like us. Like us, these people have been taught all their lives that the proper thing to do, if one wants to become a respected and valued member of our society, is to get a job and earn a living. The problem then becomes what happens to these individuals who have been indoctrinated with this protestant work ethic when they find that there is no work available, no matter how hard he or she looks.

The first thing that members of this chamber must come to terms with is the fact that there are such people. They are not dole bludgers but genuine individuals who cannot find a place in our work-oriented society. We have, on the other hand, the young. Many have never worked and others have held the odd job for short periods, often gaining employment through one or other of our band-aid schemes promoted by governments but finding that their jobs disappear as soon as the employer loses his assistance. These people come to feel that society is rejecting them. Often they find their families doing likewise. The damage done to these young people, damage resulting from a socialisation process that rears them to expect a job only for them to find that none exists, is unforgivable and can never be repaired. The problem has wide ramifications because, as the numbers of people affected in this way increase, their existence and their disillusionment will come to represent a very real threat to the traditional structures of our society. Ultimately their numbers will become so great that we will not be able to resist their demands for radical changes that could amount to a revolution, a scenario that I think few here would want.

At the other end of the scale we have workers in their late forties who have been retrenched or put off either because of the general economic climate or often because they have been superseded by machines, and their chances of finding alternative employment are almost nil unless they have some very special skills. What effect does this have on their self-image, on their personal life and on their families? The consequences are disastrous- consequences which our society is equipped neither to cope nor assist with. I have not forgotten those unemployed who fall in between the two groups I have mentioned. Their traumas and hardships are no less damaging. However, I have concentrated on these two groups I have mentioned because the majority of these unemployed at present fall into one or other of these categories.

So it is that I turn to my fellow senators here today and ask: What have we, the elected representatives of all these people, done to start redressing this problem? I suggest that the answers that we cannot avoid giving should make us all hang our heads in shame because of the insignificance of our efforts. We have all heard about the technological revolution that was greater and had more far reaching consequences than the Industrial Revolution, but we have all been lulled into believing that our unemployment problem is not a result just of this technological revolution. Economic factors and other such things are often bandied around as excuses. Let me tell my fellow senators that these excuses are no comfort to the people in the job queues. I can speak from my own experiences on the Burnie waterfront when I tell honourable senators that technological advances are costing jobs every day of the week. Let us not make the mistake of underestimating the cost. It is of the magnitude of hundreds of jobs. Even John Howard, whom those on the other side would have as our Treasurer, in his 1978-79 Budget Speech, said of business in Australia:

They have been replacing workers with machines, replacing full-time staff with part-time; replacing wage and salary earners with self-employed contract labour . . .

I invite anyone who doubts the validity of these observations to come to see the effects of technological advances in my electorate. It is not this technological revolution alone that causes this evil of unemployment. Many workers find their jobs disappearing as companies and businesses engaged in what they call rationalisation programs whereby certain operations in the company are closed and jobs lost. Often these rationalisations result from takeovers and mergers which mean that the controlling interests of the company are no longer based in Australia. The result is that decisions are made outside this country and made with little consideration to their effect on this country.

Without doubt the chief cause of this evil of unemployment is the technological revolution. This revolution is another stage in a development that began long before the Industrial Revolution. It is a trend that has been with man almost from the beginning of time. It is a trend of his own making, resulting from his own abilities. It is a trend that escalated after the war as man increasingly turned to machines to do the work that previously workers had done. These changes bring more changes and with them comes more and more dependency on machines at the expense of jobs, so much so that the Rand Corporation predicts that by the year 2000 a mere 2 per cent of America's work force will produce all the goods needed by the manufacturing industries in that nation. The story is not greatly different in Australia. Our futurologists predict that in 20 years only 10 per cent of our work force will be needed to produce all our goods and services.

In spite of these predictions of gloom and doom, our governments, whatever their political persuasion, the paid officials of trade unions and our managers of business do little to combat this evil. They fail to plan for the future. They fail to make these changes compatible with the needs of the people they affect so severely. They overlook these long term problems because to act would more than likely be contrary to their own short term interests. Governments in particular seem incapable of looking beyond the next election. They fear that if they tell the truth as it really is they will lose votes at the next election, so they ignore it. Instead they prefer to hide the truth under the carpet by using stop gap measures such as the regional employment development scheme, the Commonwealth youth support scheme and the community employment program. They hope that these will help camouflage the magnitude of our problem.

Governments must start telling the truth. They must start telling employers that by 1987 they must be geared for a situation in which workers will work a 30-hour week, and by 1990 a 25-hour week. They must ready themselves for employees having longer periods of leave and retiring earlier. Employers must also come to terms with the fact that overtime will soon have to be outlawed. As I have already said, overtime is a practice that has been abused by employers to get them out of employing new workers, paying holiday pay and sick leave and the like. As such, it keeps people out of work, so contributes to unemployment and cannot, therefore, be allowed to continue. Governments must also start looking to share what work there is among all our people, particularly the young. Industry must assist because if it does not it will be lumbered with the nation's social welfare bill because no one else will have the resources to pay.

The problem of unemployment is one close to my heart. I hope it is close to the hearts of everyone here. I can assure honourable senators that this will not be the last time I allude to it in the Senate. There is, however, another issue about which I feel particularly strongly and towards which I will often direct my energies in the Senate. I refer to industrial relations in Australia. Unfortunately the previous Liberal Government believed that confrontation was the easiest way to deal with these issues. This is an attitude which we see being adopted now in Queensland. The result was that the Hawke Labor Government inherited a package of industrial legislation more befitting a police state than a Western democracy. There are horrific provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act that, unless revoked, will lead only to more confrontation. The gaoling of unionists for assisting their fellow workers in a struggle for justice, whether it be better wages, working conditions or job security, is a cowardly act that will achieve nothing. Those fortunate enough to be employed have a right to seek the best possible contract for their labour. They own it and so, in a capitalist economic order such as ours, it should be theirs to sell or not to sell as they see fit. It should also be realised that confrontationist tactics have a destabilising effect on industrial relations which ultimately will earn Australia a reputation as an unreliable trading partner, a reputation that will adversely affect Australian exports and, therefore, Australian business. In my term of office as a senator for Tasmania I will be returning to this topic from time to time. In doing so I will be able to bring to my fellow senators' attention the stupidity of these draconian laws-laws which must be altered as a matter of urgency.

I wish to turn my attention to another matter which in some way is a diversion from the issues I have been alluding to thus far. Yet, in another sense, it is very much in tune with the message I am trying to put forward here. The message is that governments-not just the Hawke Government of which I am a member, but all governments-need to face up to reality. They need to face the issues squarely without dodging them or putting them in the 'too hard' basket. Entailed in this is a need for governments to act responsibly where the economy is concerned.

This brings me to the matter of the Tasmanian Government's total ineptness in its involvement in Bass Strait shipping. The history of Bass Strait shipping is the history of a natural evolutionary process which saw a rationalisation of services and, in some instances, the loss of services to some ports. This resulted in a situation where an economic balance emerged. Through this process of rationalisation the state was reached where those ships remaining on the Bass Strait service could be fairly sure of carrying at least 70 per cent of its capacity. Those honourable senators who are familiar with transport economics will know that that represents roughly the break even point for these ships. That is not to say that the ships were full-they were not. So, without underserving, the service was able to operate economically.

Now the balance has been thrown into disarray by the actions of the Gray Liberal Government in Tasmania. The Tasmanian Government has done this by its actions in involving itself in the management of two ships on the Bass Strait run. The Tasmanian Government has purchased the Abel Tasman, a passenger ferry which replaces the Empress of Australia on the Devonport-Melbourne run. This ferry, bought with a $26m grant from the Commonwealth Government, has a capacity nearly twice that of its predecessor, being able to carry 900 passengers and 450 vehicles. The greater capacity of the Abel Tasman led the management of the Australian National Line to the view that this ship alone was sufficient to cater for the needs of the Devonport-Melbourne run. Consequently ANL negotiated with the State Government to purchase the rights to the ship's cargo space. The Government's rejection of the offer led ANL to decide to pull out of the Devonport run altogether. The gap left by ANL was filled by William Holyman and Sons Pty Ltd, which decided to divert its ship, the Mary Holyman, from the Hobart run to the Devonport service, in so doing depriving Hobart of one of its major connections with the mainland. The second action of the Tasmanian Government was in entering into a joint venture with Brambles Transport Services to run a service between Burnie and the mainland. The effect of this was to persuade Brambles to direct all its cargo through the port of Burnie; whereas previously it had also made use of the ports of Hobart, Bell Bay, Devonport and Stanley.

When viewed together these two actions of the Gray Government reveal the total incompetence of that Government-an incompetence that can be measured when we look at the harm that results. To begin with, one can point to the loss of jobs and the social disruption that has resulted. In both Hobart and Stanley jobs have been lost as Bass Strait shipping guided by the interfering Tasmanian Government, is concentrated on the North-West coast's port. But that is only the beginning of the story. These actions have served to destabilise a service upon which Tasmania's economy depends so heavily-a destabilisation caused by overservicing, which in turn threatens the viability of non-government operators. This folly is made all the more sinful by the fact that the Government is setting two of its own services in competition with each other; that is to say, Government-owned ships operating out of Burnie and Devonport will be competing with each other.

This story of woe does not end there, because there is another aspect to this tale that further indicates the incompetence of the Tasmanian Government.

The Abel Tasman's cargo carrying capacity is limited to transporting goods stored on trailers-that is to say, it is a roll-on roll-off service. One cannot get forklifts on to the new ship. Therefore, one cannot carry cargo containers on it. Roll-on roll-off shipping transport represents an outdated method of shipping. In days gone by this form of transport was very popular. Both the Princess of Tasmania and the Bass Trader used this technology. However it was found to be an inefficient way of handling cargo. Among the problems is the cost of trailers to haulers-trailers that will often stand idle while in transit. The expense of these trailers-for example, purchasing costs, maintenance and insurance-threatens the viability of many freighters' businesses.

Earlier I addressed the issue of unemployment and the problems facing governments in seeking to overcome this evil. What we have here, with the example of the Tasmanian Government's actions, is the very opposite. It is a lesson for all governments how not to Act. These actions of the Tasmanian Government have an adverse effect on employment, both by taking work away from some ports and by threatening the viability of a number of private shipping companies. Let us hope that all governments can learn from this experience.

I come now to the end of this my first speech in the Senate. Before I resume my seat I would like to make a few personal comments. To begin with, I would like to express my deep thanks to the people of Tasmania who elected me. They have bestowed a great honour on me, in return for which I owe them a duty to serve their interests to the best of my ability. I hope that in six years they will find that I have not let them down. The honour of coming to the senate is added to by the fact that in so doing I have the pleasure of being a member of this second Hawke Government. I have already spoken of the directions that I think governments in this country should be taking. I know that this Government is aware of these needs and is prepared to face up to them. I have already referred to the community employment programs. I pointed out that in some respects it is only a stop gap measure and that much more is needed if unemployment is to be conquered. Nonetheless, it is by far and away the best scheme of its type put up by governments in recent years. It does not suffer from a shortage of funds, as was experienced under the schemes of the former Fraser Government.

This Government is also committed to making Australia a fairer, more just and more equitable place for all people to live-not just for the wealthy but for all Australians. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the introduction of Medicare by the first Hawke Government. With it, the Hawke Government gave Australians a fair and affordable health insurance system, guaranteeing that every Australian could afford access to proper health care. There is still much more to be done.

One of the things that stands out in my mind as being necessary is the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. As most honourable senators will be aware, a large part of our population has no such cover, even though it receives a regular income. A regular contribution throughout ones working life is a means of assuring a degree of security for all members of our society. A great many reforms still need to be tackled, but the job has been started and I am proud to be associated with a government that is taking on the job.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate those senators who, like me, have only just been elected. It seems that I am one of the last to make my maiden speech, a task made all the harder by the quality of the speeches of those who have preceded me. Let us hope that the idealism that we have all expressed is not short-lived.

I should like to thank a number of people without whom I would have never reached the Senate. First I acknowledge my deep debt to the many trade union officials who have supported me for many years, not only in my work for the Waterside Workers Federation and the Burnie Trades and Labour Council, but also in my activities in the Australian Labor Party. Many of these people have come from far afield. I have particularly in mind those comrades working in the mining industry on Tasmania's west coast.

My thanks are also due to my colleagues many of whom are personal friends in the Labor party who helped me when I was on the Party's administrative committee and then was a candidate for the Senate.

My family-John, Vicki, Tony and Sally-and my parents-in-law, Neta and Arthur, deserve special mention for both their moral support and their endless labours during my campaign. I should also mention my eldest grandson, Daniel, who at just five mastered the art of letter boxing.

I have left the best to last; that is my expression of thanks to my wife, Vurlie. She has been my unpaid secretary for many years. She has seen her home become a union headquarters, a campaign office and a meeting hall, and she has never once objected. I am sure that when she said 'for better or for worse' she did not know how bad the worse would be. Without her none of this would have happened. I just do not know how members can survive without the sort of support I got from her. With that thanks to the person who deserves it most, I conclude my remarks.