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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1289

Senator JONES(3.29) —This afternoon we are discussing the following matter of urgency put forward by Senator Lewis:

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.

Senator Lewis talked about the record of the Government and the trade unions but I believe that during debate on this matter of urgency we should look at the record of the Opposition parties when they were the Government of this Commonwealth of Australia. In particular, we should look also at the industrial record of this Government as opposed to the industrial record of the Opposition, the previous Government. The other point I make about Senator Lewis's contribution is that he read out a number of editorials that he believed put forward his point of view, but it seems to me that he was very selective in his quoting of those editorials. He was also very selective in the way he put them forward this afternoon. One of the very real problems that tend to come out of this debate is that members of the Opposition-I think this is a reasonable criticism of them-always seem to take the opportunity, whenever it arises, to talk down the economy in an attempt to bring down people's confidence, which causes some problems for the Government and the Australian people generally, instead of debating the question that is before the Senate. Members of the Opposition take great delight in talking down the Australian economy at every conceivable opportunity. It does not matter to them whether they cause damage abroad and create a crisis of confidence. If they believe they can score a political point, they will endeavour to do so, regardless of the danger they cause to this country.

At this stage it is worth while looking at the Opposition's record in relation to the economy in Australia. If one goes back a short time, one can see very clearly that the Opposition, through its action, was certainly doing nothing to help the people in Australia. The Opposition's record is quite clear: It presided over double digit inflation and double digit unemployment; Australia had the first negative growth in 30 years. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), as did Senator Lewis here today, talked down the exchange rate in the 1983 election for base political motives. Let us go a little further and look at what the Opposition did during its period in office. The Opposition talks about Australia's international competitiveness. Competitiveness is the result of 30 years of government, not just the last two years of the Labor Government. Thirty years of government builds the competitiveness of a country. We have had 30 years of Liberal government and two years of an Australian Labor Party government and this Opposition has the audacity to talk about our lack of international competitiveness.

The coalition's industry policy history is a long saga of failed protective plans within the steel industry. The car industry was left in tatters. It was a shambles. The ALP, during its two year period in office, had to try to pick up the pieces and restore some semblance of order to the car and steel industry. One could say that the coalition's crowning glory was the 1981-82 wages explosion. Wages rose at an annual rate approaching 17 per cent. I will repeat that: The coalition crowning glory was the 1981-82 wages explosion. Wages rose at an annual rate approaching 17 per cent. The Opposition today has the audacity to talk about the Government not being able to give leadership within the economy and on industrial matters. In a moment I will go through the record of the Opposition, compared with the record of the Government.

The facts are that the Australian economy is in sound shape and that very real recovery is being maintained. Sound management by this Government, which inherited an $8 billion deficit from the now totally discredited Fraser Administration, has turned the situation around. This Government will continue to see that the situation improves. What are the facts of the economic position? I will provide the Senate with a genuine review of this picture, not the hotch-potch of half truths and criticisms that were just put forward by Senator Lewis. Despite the bleating of the people in the ranks of the Opposition and the media, the Government has never shared their pessimism regarding the domestic economy. Recent developments have underlined the correctness of the Labor Party's optimistic outlook. There are a wide range of indicators that provide a very clear confirmation of the healthy and, indeed, robust state of the Australian economy. The picture across the board is one of strengthening private consumption and of fixed business investment and continuing improvement in labour market conditions.

I will go into a little more detail. There was strong growth in the value of retail sales in the three months to January. They were up 3.7 per cent, the largest increase since the three months to October 1981. Retail sales are now growing very solidly in real terms. In the three months to February, new motor vehicle registrations rose by 5.3 per cent. It must be taken into account that this followed a record level of registrations in 1984. Real private new capital expenditure rebounded by nearly 4 per cent in the December quarter and expectations point to strong real growth in the first half of 1985. The strength of investment in private housing has now been a major feature of the present recovery. There is an upturn of no less than 38.7 per cent from the position Labor inherited from the previous Government until the September quarter. The private dwelling construction industry remains active and buoyant and a major part of the recovery planned by this Government. Total employment is up by 110,000 since the start of the present financial year and with 361,000 new jobs since April 1983, the Government is well on target to achieve its stated ambition of 500,000 new jobs in its first three years of office. Inflation has fallen and is continuing to fall. Unemployment is down and job vacancies are up. Does this paint a picture of a flagging economy? Of course it does not.

Senator Lewis attempted to link Australia's economic performance with the performance of the trade union movement. In that, at least, I agree with him. Because of the highly responsible attitude adopted by the trade union movement, in marked contrast I might add to that displayed by the Premier of Queensland, the level of industrial disputation is the lowest for a number of years. If one looks at the record of industrial disputes, it is quite easy to see that the Labor Government has a very strong record in relation to the lessening number of industrial disputes in Australia.

The prices and incomes accord has been so successful in reducing the level of industrial disputes that the number of working days lost throughout Australia in the 12 months to the end of December 1984 was the lowest for over a decade. In the 12 months to the end of January 1985, 1,326,600 working days were lost due to industrial disputes in Australia. This was 245,600 fewer days lost than in the 12 months to the end of January 1983, representing a national decline of 15.6 per cent. I believe the record speaks for itself.

In Queensland the picture is substantially different. The number of working days lost due to industrial disputes in that State actually increased by 108,100. This represents an increase of 83.9 per cent. I will repeat that: The increase in Queensland of 108,100 working days represents an increase of 83.9 per cent, a marked departure from the national trend. The number of working days lost per 1,000 employees throughout Australia increased by 6.4 per cent between the 12 months to the end of January 1984 and the 12 months to the end of January 1985. However, in Queensland the number of working days lost per 1,000 employees increased substantially, by 80.2 per cent over the same period. So I believe that it is very easy to see that the sort of disputation that is taking place in Queensland is certainly adding to industrial disputes and to the number of working days lost in that State.

The trade union movement freely and willingly entered into the spirit and the letter of the prices and incomes accord. The accepted spirit of consensus, which I believe has taken hold in Australia like a huge breath of fresh air, replaces the confrontationist policies which so pockmarked the dark days of the Fraser Government and which are continued by the Premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. Of course, it is always possible to provoke industrial action for selfish political ends. That is what has been happening in Queensland in the past few months. The actions of the Government in that State, firstly in stirring up a fairly low key power dispute by sacking 1,002 workers in that industry and, secondly, by proceeding with a string of highly objectionable fascist-inspired pieces of industrial legislation designed broadly to smash the trade union movement out of existence, are now largely discredited. Indeed, all thinking people now realise the seriousness of the course towards destruction upon which Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen and his Cabinet have embarked.

I refer honourable senators to report No. 12 of the Human Rights Commission on the Queensland Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985, perhaps the most savage, inhumane and illegal piece of legislation ever pushed through an Australian parliament. After pulling the Act to pieces virtually clause by clause, the Commission found that it infringed a number of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These include the use of forced or compulsory labour and the infringement of the rights of workers to join trade unions. These matters were raised in this place some time ago by a number of my colleagues, who said that legislation had been put through the Queensland Parliament that would bring about the use of compulsory labour. We believe that at that stage it was an infringement of civil liberties and an infringement of the International Covenant. We now have the Human Rights Commission in its report No. 12 backing up the fears that members of this House expressed in this Senate some time ago.

I commend this excellent report of the Human Rights Commission to every member of the Senate, in particular to those opposite who just might, with a little bit of luck, learn something from it. It recommends that the inconsistencies in the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act should be brought to the attention of the Queensland Government with the object of persuading that Government to repeal the Act, or at least amend it to limit its operation to emergency situations, in a manner consistent with the observance of human rights. I do not believe that the request of the Human Rights Commission goes beyond the point of believing that there should be some resolution to industrial problems. I believe that it goes to the point that legislation brought forward to try to resolve industrial problems should be brought forward in such a way that it resolves them and does not cause a situation of confrontation between the unions and the people involved in a dispute. When I use the word 'people', I mean the consumers.

We have a situation where the Premier of Queensland has been requested by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in a telex to meet with the Federal Government and the trade unions to discuss the problems that exist and to try to bring about some resolution to the industrial problems. I have not heard many honourable senators on the opposite side of the House asking that that meeting take place. I again say that I cannot see what is wrong with sitting around a table in an attempt to resolve the industrial dispute in Queensland, to try to resolve the position that has developed, in the best interests of the trade unions, the consumer and, for that matter, the Government, the country and the economy at large.

Senator Reynolds —But the Queensland Premier doesn't want that.

Senator JONES —No, he does not believe in conciliation or arbitration. He believes in confrontation. The Human Rights Commission also said that, if the Queensland Government does not repeal the Act or bring it into line with Australia's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Commonwealth Government should consider introducing legislation which would make the provisions of Article 8 of the Covenant applicable as part of Australian law. We, as an Australian Government, are signatories to the Covenant. I add that in the course of our becoming signatories to that Covenant agreement was reached with the various States of Australia, including Queensland, to Australia becoming a signatory to the convention of the International Labour Organisation. This would have the effect of converting the obligation resulting from the annexation of the Article to the Human Rights Commission Act into a specific Bill of rights provision, having the force of law. It would make it possible to challenge in a court the validity of any inconsistent State legislation, such as that which I believe now sits on the books in Queensland. The Commission also recommended that consideration be given to amending the Human Rights Commission Act to allow the Commission to receive and to inquire into complaints of infringement by the States of Article 8 of the Covenant, which declares that no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour, as they are now required to do under the State Act. This, of course, is in direct contrast to the thrust of the Queensland legislation.

As I have said, the economy of the nation is in good hands after eight years of total mismanagement by the previous discredited Fraser Liberal-National Party shambles of a coalition. I believe that we should look at the overview set out in the report entitled 'Outlook for the Aviation Industry', an information paper printed in March 1985. I believe that that overview shows very clearly the position of the Australian economy and the role that the Australian Labor Government has played in bringing that economy back to a reasonable position of competition with economics throughout the world. I quote from that report:

The sharp recession in the Australian economy which commenced in early 1982 bottomed out in the June quarter 1983. Since that time, the economy has rebounded strongly. Important factors in the recovery in 1983-84 were the substantial fiscal stimulus, improved economic and trading conditions internationally, a bumper year for farm production and, importantly, a sharp slowing in wages and prices which enabled the recovery process to proceed more swiftly than would otherwise have been expected.

If we had not had that recovery, if we had not had that slowing of wages and prices, I do not believe that we would be able to say that the trade union movement in Australia has been reasonable in accepting the accord when it was put forward, which allowed a slowing down of the wages process in Australia. The report further states:

The pick-up in activity strengthened and broadened as 1983-84 progressed. In the second half of the year, private business fixed investment increased and private non-farm stock building turned from decumulation to accumulation. Inflation, by all measures, declined substantially during the year, due largely to moderation in wages growth.

Again there is a mention of the responsibility of the trade union movement in relation to wage growth in the Australian economy. It continues:

Employment grew strongly and there was a reduction in both the level and rate of unemployment.

I could continue to read through that information paper and find a view that the Australian Government has managed the economy well. Even the Opposition's attempt at talking down the economy today will not halt the growth of the economy under the Hawke Labor Government.