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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1292

Senator JACK EVANS(3.47) —I am very disappointed that no Minister has been in this House in the debate so far and it appears that there will be no Minister for the remainder of the debate. I now see the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) is standing in the wings ready to make his entry and I welcome that entry. This is a very critical time for Australia and this is a vital subject for the Australian Government and for this Parliament. I believe that it is important for us to have the ears of Ministers and for the messages that are coming from this Senate today to be transmitted to the Government of the day. The Australian Democrats endorse the matter of urgency, which is in the following terms:

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.

There is such a need. It is a matter of urgency and therefore we will be voting in favour of this motion. Of course governments should be providing leadership-leadership on economic policy and leadership which would effectively minimise industrial disruption. But we have to ask: What kind of leadership?

I would like to spend a few minutes looking at the alternatives that have been provided by recent governments. During the Fraser era we had a very predictable, very easily read, type of leadership. Everybody was aware of what was going to happen. We were going to have confrontationism, which was destructive to our economy and destructive to our industrial relations system. We were going to have a degree of brinkmanship that took any major, or even some minor, industrial disputes right up to the precipice until finally somebody had to back away. In contrast to that I think the Hawke years have so far been far from predictable. In fact there is a lack of positive moves coming out of the Government in a number of areas, particularly those that have already been discussed this afternoon. Although the Government gives good rationalisation for its lack of effectiveness, its lack of involvement in many of these areas, I believe the country is looking for a form of leadership which it currently lacks.

The problem for this economy is often not what stand the Government is taking but whether the Government makes a stand at all. I want to stress that leadership does not necessarily equate with intervention. The solution is not merely a matter of government intervention to support, for instance, the Australian dollar; there are many other steps that this Government could be taking. If I have time I would like to look at some of those. The difficulty that this country is facing at the moment is that the Australian Federal Government's position seems to be that it is taking no stand on the current industrial dispute in Queensland. On the one hand it is taking no stand against the misuse of the criminal law by the Government of Queensland in its deprivation of civil rights to its people and its destruction of the industrial relations system, and on the other hand it is taking no stand against the unions in terms of the secondary boycotts that we saw last Friday.

We, the Australian Democrats, want a maintenance of essential services but we want those essential services maintained with a limited right to strike, while upholding everyone's civil rights. Not just unionists but non-unionists have civil rights when it comes to the matter of a strike affecting everybody, particularly through secondary boycotts. What may well happen, out of the Queensland dispute, is an exacerbation and a spreading of that dispute across Australia. So it becomes urgent that the Government does act to prevent the spread of that dispute.

We have to look a little bit deeper than just an inactive government; we have to look at the reasons for the inaction, and they become patently obvious. This Government consistently takes no action, makes no decision against two major powerful groups in this community, the unions-the Australian Council of Trade Unions-and big business, because it is trying to be all things to all people and, of course, it is finding that it cannot be. It cannot keep all of the promises, fulfil all of the obligations that it has made to the protagonists in certain areas. Because of that it is being perceived not just in Australia but internationally as politically weak and indecisive and people are now asking: 'What are this Government's policies? Where can we look to to find out the direction that this Government is likely to take?' We cannot look to its policy statements. If we looked at its uranium policy statement and at what it has done with it, we would have to assume that it will turn its other policies on their heads each time it makes a decision. We cannot even follow the announcements made by its Ministers. Many of us believed the Treasurer (Mr Keating) when he said that there would be up to six foreign banks introduced into this country to spread the competition, but when the pressure was put on him from the international banking system that six went up to a massive 16, which did not just modify the banking system in Australia, it virtually changed it overnight.

Senator Button —That is a lot of rubbish, Senator.

Senator JACK EVANS —It is absolute fact. I would like the honourable senator to come into the debate later on and deny that the Treasurer promised us six and gave us 16. If he still maintains that that is rubbish, I will provide him with the proof. What we have is a government which is not even following its past rhetoric. Its past rhetoric would have us now paying about two-thirds of the current price for each litre of petrol, but it maintains a policy introduced by its predecessor despite its vigorous opposition to that when it was in opposition. We have a government whose Aboriginal land rights policy is thrown out the window every second day because a pressure group is able to impose its will on the government of the day. We have a government whose policies on defence seem to be changing daily. Who knows what its policy will be next week on MX missile tests? Who knows what its policy will be next week on foreign investment? Because of that indecision we are going into a tax summit with an almost total lack of commitment by the Government to implement any genuine tax reform, with a declining interest in the summit itself because people are losing confidence in that summit, and, as a result of this Government's backing away from tough issues, a feeling of uncertainty about where this Government is heading in terms of its tax policies, because after the tax summit no plans are known, there is no timetable and there are no means of implementing what will come out of the tax summit. There are no guarantees that anything will happen after the tax summit except that we will have a few more band-aids in the 1985 Budget in August.

Senator Cook —You have to respect the right of the parties to have a summit and to have their say.

Senator JACK EVANS —Indeed, that is why I applauded from the outset, and continue to applaud, the concept of the tax summit; because I believe that it is a magnificent opportunity for the people of Australia to have some input. The question that I am raising is: Is there any commitment to the Government to act following the tax summit, because we have seen each straw man argument put up by one member of the Government shot down by others, either within the Government or pressuring the Government to ensure that there will be very little change in Australia's tax system?

Senator Cook —It is called debate.

Senator JACK EVANS —It is debate, but the honourable senator is missing my point. Internationally it is being seen as a wishy-washy, no policy, no direction and leaderless government, and that is what this debate is all about. We need that leadership, we need that direction and we need to know which way this Government is pointing Australia. The Government has had and used every opportunity to blame the cause of Australia's slide in its economy on what happened at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, when we had a government, the Fraser Government, talking up the economy to the point of a quite farcical situation in this country where a resources boom was virtually promised to every Australian. Those high expectations led to a massive wages push, following which we had what amounted to an economic collapse in the country. The wages push had to be followed by a responsible measure, and I applaud the Fraser Government for its wages freeze. But the wages freeze was taking us nowhere. After the wages freeze the Fraser Government had nowhere to go. Once more I applaud this Government for converting the wages freeze into a wages pause as a result of the accord, which was good for Australia. It enabled this Government to establish and obtain reasonable economic growth. Again, I applaud this Government for the economic growth policies it has implemented and followed through. However, we still have the potential for disaster as a result of the current industrial dispute.

I want to talk briefly about this industrial dispute and then offer a suggestion. Industrial disputes in this country are best resolved through consensus. I have no quarrel with that approach by this Government. Under the Fraser Government the number of disputes averaged 2,266 a year. Under the Hawke Government they average 1,877 a year. Under the Fraser Government, working days lost averaged 2,400,000 a year. Under this Government, they average 1,300,000 a year, down from 2.4 million to 1.3 million-a magnificent achievement. I seek leave to have the figures that make up those averages incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-


1. Number of Disputes (Yearly Figures Only)

Fraser Government

1976 2,055 1977 2,090 1978 2,277 1979 2,042 1980 2,429 1981 2,915 1982 2,060

Total 15,868

Average per year 2,266

Hawke Government

1983 1,788 1984 1,965

Total 3,753

Average per year 1,877

Therefore, under Hawke the average number of disputes per year is 400 (approximately) less than under Fraser.


Fraser Government

1976 3,799.2 1977 1,654.8 1978 2,130.8 1979 3,964.4 1980 3,320.2 1981 4,192.2 1982 2,158.0 1983 January 105.5 February 102.4

Total 21,427.5

Yearly average 2,989.8

Hawke Government

1983 March 1,098 To December 1984 1,305.9

Total 2,403.9

Average 1,311.21

Fraser total 21,427,500 Yearly average 2,989,800

Hawke total 2,403,900 Average 1,311,210

Senator JACK EVANS —I thank the Senate. What we need now is genuine leadership, not just from the Government but from the whole country, particularly our political leaders. I call on the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Messrs Peacock and Howard, to stop deliberately destabilising this economy and denigrating Australia's prospects. While they may think they are talking to Australian voters only, they are being heard by international bankers, international traders and international governments. Mr Peacock should be using his good offices right now to get Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen to draw back, just as the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, is pressuring the Australian Council of Trade Unions to draw back. Unfortunately, Messrs Peacock and Hawke seem to suffer from having albatrosses around their necks-on the one hand, the Joh Bjelke-Petersen Government, and, on the other, the ACTU.

There is a problem with the Bjelke-Petersen leadership. It is aggressive. It is non-negotiable. It will not negotiate. Meanwhile, everybody suffers. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen is emulating Margaret Thatcher, who beat the miners in the United Kingdom but who destroyed her country's economy in the process. That is the lesson for Australia. Do we want to go down that path? Do we want union confrontationism to spread around this country to the point where the unions are destroyed, but so is the economy? God help us if we go down that path. This motion states that the Government needs 'to act effectively against industrial disruption'. I ask the following questions: What would the Liberal Party, which moved this motion, have the Government do? Would it get this Government involved in a State's industrial dispute? Of course not. Would it legislate to uphold International Labour Organisation conventions by making Bjelke-Petersen laws illegal under Australian Acts of Parliament? No, it does not want that. Would it have the Government publicly attack its own, the ACTU, from which it draws its power, as we saw over the weekend? Of course it would want that to happen, but would the Liberals attack big business? Would the Nationals publicly attack the mining companies? No. This Government must act effectively to resolve industrial disputes, not exacerbate them. The Government should work with the States to endeavour to prevent industrial disruption, particularly giving attention to essential services. I offer the good offices of the Australian Democrats to this Government and to the Bjelke-Petersen Government to resolve the current dispute and to establish guidelines to ensure that there is no repetition of it.