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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 178


Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) (Minister for the Environment and Conservation) - I was pleased to hear mat the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) recognises the change in society and that he concedes the fact that the Australian people in voting in the last election voted for a change. But the odd thing was that, with all his rhetoric, he then proceeded to talk in the very self-same vein in which I have heard him talk for the previous 3 years, as if in fact he had learnt nothing at all from the recent election result. The honourable member expressed concern about overdependence by the people in the community, and in fact in all western nations, on governments. I take it that he included Australia in this. But oddly enough I have been under the impression that for the last 23 years or so we have had a Liberal conservative government and not a Labor government. So surely the honourable gentleman should be asking himself what it was he and his colleagues have been doing which has been wrong and which has led to, in his view, this overdependence on government.

The honourable member discussed for a time the vexed question of compulsory unionism. I concede that one can see the arguments against belonging to a trade union and superficially they appear perfectly reasonable. After all, why should one be forced to belong to a union? Where is freedom - and so on? But, of course, in real terms the economic welfare of people who do not belong to unions often depends upon the action of trade unionists. I am talking, in other words, about wage and salary earners. I have yet to see employers who voluntarily and without being asked or pressed freely giving improvements in conditions or wages. Such improvements almost invariably depend on some action by the workers themselves who have formed trade unions to attain these improvements. Such a move by the workers usually involves not only the financial sacrifice by members of trade unions in just paying their contributions to the unions, but in addition very often the additional sacrifice of going on strike with their fellow unionists.

I know that superficially it often seems that the trade unions are defeated when they call a strike and then go back to work seemingly with their tail between their legs. But it is very interesting to note how often a judgment comes soon after from the Arbitration Court or some decision is made which gives the unions the very things they had been seeking in their industrial action. I reiterate my claim that usually improvement in the conditions for people on wages in this country depends upon the action of trade unionists. So where does that leave the proposition of a person's freedom not to belong to a trade union? I would be perfectly prepared to accept this proposition on condition that the people on wages who do not wish to belong to the trade union, who do not wish to take part in the trade union activity, who do not wish to go on strike and who in fact do not go on strike, do not accept the increases in pay gained by the unionists when they have been on strike, on condition that they do not accept the increase in holidays gained or the improvement in working conditions. If they do not accept these improvements it would be reasonable for them to adhere to their view that they should not belong to a union. (Quorum formed). I now turn away from the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to consider the comments made by the Governor-General in his Speech. Mr Deputy Speaker, I refresh your memory by quoting the Governor-General's observation that the grounds on which the Australian Labor Party Government has decided to put forward its programme of change included

.   . the manifest desire of large sections of the Australian community, particularly the youthful majority, for a more tolerant, more open, more humane, more equal, yet more diverse society.

Perhaps this is what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition hinted at, but does not fully comprehend. To me the significant change in society has been the increasing commitment of young people to what is going on, the things that they see wrong with society and their commitment to active political participation in changing society. I think that all of us can recall at school and later in early adult life the comparative lack of concern of our fellows for what society was about and what was going on. Now I am pleasantly surprised to find an increased involvement even on the part of my own children who are still only at secondary school and their increased concern for what they consider to be the ills of this society.

We have a growing movement by women, young and old, in the community to assert their rights and their position in this society. For too long women have been considered second class citizens. Now they themselves are joining in the fight, no longer leaving it just to trade unions which in the past have talked about equality of opportunity and equality of wages. Women are taking a more active part in this campaign, but not just at that level. They are seeking equality of rights and recognition of their place in society as people, not just as chattels of men or as the housekeepers of the community. I think that these are some of the significant changes that prompt the Australian Labor Party to propose many of the things that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition admitted basically would change Australian society.

I turn to foreign relations. To illustrate what we are seeking to do, I quote again from the Governor-General's Speech:

My Government supports the proposal by members of the Association of South East Asian Nations for a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality in South East Asia, and will encourage other nations involved in the region to support the concept.

For too long the view of this country has been that we must protect ourselves against attack from unnamed - but with heavy implications as to whom they might be - would-be aggressors around us. Depending on the atmosphere in the community at the time, the aggressor could be any one of half a dozen nations to the north of this country. Of course, the reality is that all nations in the area have felt beleaguered and. threatened, probably by us and one another. For too long we have maintained treaty arrangements that essentially have been military pacts. We have adopted the habit of making arrangements with one group of nations and them making arrangements with another group of nations, seemingly in conflict with one another. Secrecy builds suspicion upon suspicion and reduces the confidence between nations. It is time we broke down these walls between us. It is time we sought to change these relationships between nations from so-called treaties to protect one another to treaties to assist one another to develop, recognising that basically, as I believe, no nation wishes to attack another nation. I realise that in many people's view that may be taken to be a naive proposition. In fact, I do not believe that any nation decides to go to war for the fun of it. If nations go to war they do so because they feel threatened by some other nation or in some way or other they feel they have a need for this action in order to assert their rights or their position. In other words, they feel aggrieved; they have a problem. To me, the best way to solve problems like that is not for us to get on the defensive and' arm ourselves to the teeth in competition with them but to seek to help them overcome whatever the problem is that they feel they have.

I would guess that in most 'cases we would overcome the problems by helping them to overcome some of their . developmental difficulties because in the main this is usually what the problem is. They have difficulty in developing a reasonable standard of living for their peoples, in finding access for their manufactured goods or in finding markets for their raw materials. AH nations are often placed in this terrible predicament. Even this country has difficulty in exporting its goods at times. But we do not overcome the problems by threatening to punch someone on the nose. We will overcome the problem only by seeking agreement with other nations so that we can extend and promote our trade possibilities. To this end in trying to lower the barriers and break down the walls, this Government has, after many years of waiting for the last Government to do it, ratified the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - again, many people would say, a naive proposition. After all, the Russians, the Americans, the Chinese, the. French and the British still have their bombs. That is true enough. They have had them for years. They have not used them. They have sat on them and they have felt uncomfortable, They have continued to produce them. There is enough nuclear power in the world now to blow us to smithereens probably 100 times over. What does it achieve? It does nothing but raise the anxieties of everyone. It is time that we sought to lower the anxieties of the world community by agreeing to things such as the Treaty to which I have just referred, seeking to show that we are prepared to trust the present nuclear nations and that we do not aspire to compete with them. In turn, they may then recognise that they are wasting their time continuing to produce these nuclear weapons.

Of course, I know that many people will disagree with me. They still feel that it Ls just poppycock. They are anxious and suspicious. The answer to that is improved education and understanding. We need to understand not the mechanical things of life but many of the spiritual things of life. We need to have a new look at education. For too long our education has concentrated upon technical training and not upon education for living. This Government is proposing to establish a schools commission. It will not only be concerned with such matters as school buildings, the teacher-pupil ratio and textbooks but also I hope it will look into the philosophy of education. It will seek to understand how we might change the emphasis in education in order to overcome the problems that many of us are seeking more than ever at the present time. People are trying to obtain help from us because although they are well trained technologically they still cannot obtain a job. If they obtain a job, it is one which they are not trained to do. They feel frustrated and hopeless. All our education system is doing at the moment is increasing the bewilderment of many who find that once they are educated there is no place for them in society. Education is more than technical training. (Quorum formed)

Another point raised in the GovernorGeneral's Speech related to the Aboriginal people. For years our treatment of the only real Australians has been a terrible reflection on our honesty and sincerity. I hope and trust that at last we will seek to redress the injustices that we have perpetrated on these people. For too long we have failed to recognise them as human beings. We have denied them basic rights. We have even denied them the very land which historically is. theirs. The Government intends to press for the establishment of Aboriginal land rights, far better health services and better nutritional standards for Aborigines so thu no longer will they be the poverty-stricken section of this Australian community with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.

In the few. minutes remaining to. me in this debate I should, like to discuss something which relates particularly tq , my own portfolio, namely, the .environmental impact statement technique which we have proposed. I concede quite frankly that the previous Government had adopted the concept of environmental impact statements designed to protect the environment; but its proposals had not in fact reached the implementation stage. Its idea was that the appropriate departments would prepare these statements and the statements would be called for if there appeared to be anything' in a project which impinged on the environment. The statements would be prepared and submitted to the Cabinet together with the proposal. Once the Cabinet approved it, the statement would, be released to the public.

We have taken the view that this is not good enough because it hides' the decision for far too long. We intend to call for the selfsame impact statements in consultation with whatever departments are involved. Usually it is not just one department but a number of departments'. Once these statements are prepared, they will be made public so that the community may know about them and be in a position to criticise them. Should I consider that a project concerns the environment, then I have a discretionary power to call for an impact statement; but after January of next year that discretionary power will no longer exist and the statement will be automatically expected. We also intend to provide opportunities for public hearings so that the community can express its views before such statements are finished and before they are presented to this Parliament or to the Cabinet. In this way we hope to evolve a system whereby the community can have a far more direct say in the way it is developed. It will not be left to governments or to cabinets to make decisions for people; it will be up to people themselves to make those decisions.

I should like, finally, to comment on the human progress index. Many people thought that this was a bit of a laugh. It is, if one looks at it' in terms of wondering how one might measure happiness or God knows what. But that is hot what is being sought. We seek to understand : and recognise that the gross national product is not necessarily an accurate measure of how much the welfare of the community is improving. It just measures the output, lt has no bearing at all on how something influences or affects people. We may be increasing the production of motor cars and be polluting ourselves to such an extent that' we will no longer be able to survive in our cities, but that is counted as progress. In our approach we seek to measure not only industrial output but also its consequences; and if those consequences are bad a subtraction is' made, thus giving a more accurate measure of real human progress. That is the essence of the Government's proposition.







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