Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1286

Senator LEWIS(3.10) —I move:

That in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency: The need for the Government to provide leadership on economic policy and to act effectively against industrial disruption despite its obligations to the trade union movement.

The crash of the dollar is no longer a serious matter; it is now very, very serious. Those are not my words; they are the words of the Finance Editor of the Australian, Mr David Potts, who said at the weekend:

It is more than a coincidence that since the ACTU's blockade of Queensland was announced, the dollar has been falling once again.

Not only did Mr Potts have something to say about that over the weekend but today in the Australian Financial Review, the Editor of that newspaper said:

. . . there is no doubt that the decline of the dollar is based on much more than speculation. It represents a major reappraisal of the course of Australian economic policy, and the prospects for the Australian economy.

The editorial in the Australian over the weekend was headed 'The time has come for the leader to lead'. That is exactly what the Opposition is talking about today because we have moved as a matter of urgency:

The need for the Government to provide leadership on economic policy and to act effectively against industrial disruption despite its obligations to the trade union movement.

This Government appears unable or unwilling to take any action at all in two areas. The first is in relation to the economy where confusion and uncertainty seem to reign supreme. The second is in the protection of people, the Australian people, from militant industrial action. As to the economy, as a result of the wages pause instituted during the last year of the Fraser Government, as a result of the recovery from the drought and as a result of the recovery in the United States of America, 1984 proved to be a year of strong economic growth. I put it to the Senate that this Government has wasted that strong economic growth by lack of leadership, by confusion and uncertainty. We ask this Government where it stands on a number of fundamental questions which are concerning the business people, and indeed all the people of this nation. Where does it stand in relation to the Australian Council of Trade Unions claim for catch-up of 9.1 per cent in wages allegedly lost on the wages pause? We have heard nothing from the Government in regard to that claim, notwithstanding that Mr Simon Crean and Mr Bill Kelty continue to assert that there must be some sort of a catch-up. People looking at our national affairs are wondering where the Government stands on this issue. As to the devaluation of the dollar and the wages claim, again by Mr Crean and Mr Kelty, where does the Government stand in regard to the possible discounting of that dollar in the next wages claim?

Again, the ACTU is currently pushing a productivity claim. Again we find that the Government is all confusion and uncertainty because again there is no answer from it as to where it stands on productivity. Let me point out that the evidence is that to November last year, ordinary time earnings increased almost twice as fast as award rates. Little extras being paid to those who are in employment, such as holiday loadings, superannuation, redundancy payments and such things, lead to more and more unemployment in the private sphere. Where does the Government stand in regard to tax policy? Clearly it does not know where it stands because it is calling a summit to find out where it ought to go. Ministers are arguing publicly about what their faction believes the Government's policy should be. The Government is in utter confusion and the economy of this nation is dwindling because of the Government's failure to give any leadership or direction in these areas.

Why is the Government in this situation? As we pointed out at the time, in 1982 the Australian Labor Party entered into an election gimmick, purely and simply for the purpose of the election which it knew was on the way. That gimmick was called the accord, a reason whereby it could claim that there would be industrial peace and harmony and therefore it should be returned to government. That gimmick has blown up in the Government's face. It is locked into an agreement with an uncontrollable partner, a partner which continues to take advantage of whatever opportunities are presented to the Australian economy. As a result of that, the opportunities presented to this nation, because of the devaluation of the dollar, the recovery from the drought, the wages pause, and the United States recovery, have been lost. We have what is, in effect, a Mad Hatter's tea party, a situation in which Ministers, somehow or other, can claim the right to speak privately, not as Ministers, even when talking directly about their portfolios. I give an example of what I have just said. Last Thursday, the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, said at a conference in Sydney:

There would be opportunities for demonstrating moderation in claims in relation to exchange rate effects at the next wage indexation hearings and in relation to productivity-related pay increases.

That is precisely the sort of leadership that we are asking the Government to come forward with. In other words, in relation to exchange rate effects on wages, at the next wage indexation hearing this Government will be saying, 'There must be moderation', and similarly it will be saying so in relation to productivity-related pay increases. That is what Senator Walsh said publicly, but can the people of this nation rely on that? Not at all. When Senator Walsh is asked a question in the Senate, he must answer truthfully, and then we get a different situation. On 19 April 1985, as reported on page 1256 of Hansard, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle asked him whether this could be taken as an indication that the Government would be doing something or other, and Senator Walsh said:

No, it cannot, because no decision has yet been made by the Government.

So we have this crazy Mad Hatter's tea party where Ministers are able to say things publicly as if those things are what the Government is intending to do, and when nailed in the Senate, where they must answer truthfully, they say, 'Oh, they were only my personal thoughts on the matter; in fact, the Government has not made a decision on it'. Of course, because the Government has not made a decision, the dollar is affected. Look at what is happening to our nation as the dollar goes right down the gurgler because this Government is failing to give the leadership to which this country is entitled.

I turn to the question of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). Last December he suffered a major election shock. The result of that shock was to turn to faction shock as the factions within the Labor Party started to lead on and to show the Prime Minister that as he was no longer carrying the sort of popularity that he had previously carried they would demonstrate their power to him. What did we see after that? We saw the MX missile fiasco. In the United States, our Prime Minister had to back down publicly because of the actions of the left wing of his own Party and the known actions of the militant unions in Australia. That humiliating public back-down by the Prime Minister caused people around the world who are interested in investing in Australia, particularly people in the United States, to have a look at Australia's national affairs. What did they discover? They discovered the confusion and uncertainty about the economy that I have mentioned previously, and they found a shambles in our industrial relations? Why did they find a shambles in our industrial relations? Again, rather than honourable senators taking my words for it, let me turn to some of the editorial opinions. I turn to the Australian Financial Review of Monday, 11 March. Under the heading, 'The future of the unions', the Editor stated:

It has become common for the leadership of the union movement to accuse of ''union bashing'' anyone who questions their role, prerogatives and power in an industrial situation, and who suggests that there might be room for reform which would require the unions to accept some kind of discipline and legally enforceable standards of behaviour.

That is the situation. Any time anyone in this country suggests that the unions ought to come under some form of control, he is accused of union bashing. The Editor started to talk about the situation in Queensland with Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland-this was back on 11 March-and he stated:

. . . he is fighting for the simple principle that unions (and, indeed, industrial tribunals) have a responsibility to the whole community; and government should have the final say with respect to their own employees at least.

Let us look at the Government's own employees. This Government, when it came into office, revoked the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act and quite deliberately put itself in a situation of utter weakness in relation to its employees. How did the employees react to that? They said: 'Here is an opportunity to take advantage of it'. A situation arose where the Public Service unions refused to collect money. This happened just at the time of the MX missile crisis. People overseas had started to look at our economy, to see the difficulties that we were facing, and then suddenly saw that, in addition to those economic difficulties, the Government's own employees were refusing to collect the Government's money. Then, at the time Mr Nakasone of Japan visited this country, we had the Hunter Valley rail strike. At the absolute height of its ruination of our economy, Mr Nakasone was talking to the Prime Minister about exporting our minerals to Japan.

The sorts of demands from the union movement which are creating the problems in this nation were very well summed up, again by Mr Potts, in the article I referred to previously when he stated:

For the devaluation of the dollar to boost the economy real incomes have to fall.

We in the Opposition acknowledge that real incomes have to fall for this economy to be boosted. The Government fails to accept that proposition. Mr Potts continued:

The question is whose: the unions have made it clear enough that it won't be theirs, and by continuing to run a Budget deficit, the Government is saying it won't be its, either.

While this conflict is being fought out behind the prices and incomes accord, the dollar stays weak and we hand over our national assets to foreigners on a golden platter.

Not only do we do that but, in addition, we make it absolutely impossible for our unemployed people to face the future with any confidence. The nation has now run into the Queensland blockade. It is a situation in which an elected government is endeavouring to ensure that services are provided to the ordinary people of this country. I ask the Government: Where does it stand in relation to a person whose refrigerator is put out of operation and the food goes bad? Is that not the sort of thing that this Government ought to be concerned about? It is certainly the sort of thing that the Queensland Government is concerned about. Where does the Federal Government stand with regard to people who wanted to move into and out of Queensland while the transport workers with their action tried to bring the Queensland Government to its knees? Where does the Federal Government stand with regard to its own Telecom employees who this week are meeting to discuss the Queensland situation? Again, I turn to what the editors say in some of the newspapers. In today's Australian Financial Review, it is stated:

The unions have not hesitated to demonstrate their neglect of the fundamental problems of the Australian economy--

. . . .

. . . We are seeing the effects of a response by the rest of the world to the clear failure of the Government to come to terms with a union movement which is not able or willing to concede that the Australian economy needs to go through a period of substantial, and inevitably painful, readjustment.

Rather it is prepared to fight for its 'hard-won gains' in terms of power and real wages, without regard to the cost in unemployment or our international trading position.

In an article in the Canberra Times of 16 April, headed 'Condoning an illegal act', the Editor said:

If the Federal Government does not act to prevent the blockade, it will be implicitly condoning an illegal act by its de-facto coalition partner . . .

By that he meant its partner in the accord. In relation to prominent churchmen who have spoken out in favour of the right to strike and the threat to civil liberties posed by Queensland's five new Acts, the editor said that they 'would do well to contemplate the extent to which existing industrial law and practice have eroded civil liberties in Australia'. So here we have a situation where the ACTU is squeezing the economy for the benefit of those people who are currently in employment. The elected Government of Queensland has had to face a blockade and it looks as though it will have all sorts of drastic pressure applied to it by the ACTU in an attempt to have it change its legislation. We have this terrible situation facing the nation, and what happens? We had absolutely no leadership from this Government for week after week and then finally, this weekend, Mr Willis came along and slapped the ACTU on the hand with a feather. All he did was say to it: 'You really have to be very careful about exercising this right to strike; otherwise the non-ALP governments will take some sort of action against you and that will appear to be legitimate action'. He did not suggest that this Government would take any action against the ACTU or that this Government might even consider taking any action against the ACTU. Last week in the House of Representatives our Leader, Mr Peacock, offered to put the CE(EP) legislation back on the books within 24 hours. All that the Government could say was that it was some sort of a gimmick.

The truth of the matter is that the people of this country demand that the Government take some action to stand up to the union movement; that it take some action to ensure that the union movement does comply with the laws. We want this Government to take some action to ensure that the people of Queensland are not blockaded. They are entitled to receive the normal, ordinary essential services with which people all round the country are provided. Why should the people of Queensland be attacked by the ACTU? Mr Deputy President, I say to you that the desperate need for leadership on the part of this Government in regard to both economic policy and industrial disputation is a matter of urgency. I hope that as a result of this debate in the Senate the Government sees its way clear to do at least something for the people of Queensland.