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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2517

Mr GROOM - My question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, relates to the problems of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd in Tasmania. The Prime Minister will appreciate that one of the causes of the retrenchments has been the rapid escalation in production costs and State charges, especially State payroll tax, in recent years. Can he suggest any means by which the company may be given some relief from these costs and charges?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The honourable gentleman is right to point to the importance of State taxes and charges and the consequences of State legislation on the fortunes of companies large and small within State boundaries. Payroll tax collections from this company over a 3-year period rose by approximately $200,000. The Premier of Tasmania now has made an intriguing suggestion that if men are first sacked and then re-employed the State will not charge payroll tax for the people who are thus sacked and re-employed. That would seem to be an odd type of scheme. I cannot understand why the Premier tries to insist that people be sacked and be reemployed before he is prepared to give a concession in relation to payroll tax to industries in his own area. It is also worth noting that the Premier finished the last financial year with a Budget surplus of $4m and a loan account surplus of about $17m. If the Premier were really and truly concerned about these matters it would be within his province to take some action without standing on his head and requiring that people be sacked before companies can qualify for a particular concession. It seems a strange way of going about business.

In the years from 1973-74 to 1975-76 although the number of people employed by the company was reduced from about 1300 to a little over 1000, the cost of workers compensation to the company increased from just over $400,000 to $ 1 .2m. That is not only a mark of inflation but also the result of State legislation. Quite obviously the additional charges in respect of payroll tax and workers compensation put a very heavy additional burden on this company as they would on every company in Tasmania. That ought to be noted. The honourable member brought a delegation from the Queenstown Trades and Labour Council to me yesterday. The delegation had earlier put an interesting and constructive suggestion to the company. It advised me as did the honourable member, that it had earlier put the suggestion to the company. It was that there should be a work sharing arrangement in an effort to avoid retrenchments. The Council also of its own volition volunteered to see whether it could work out with the agreement of the employees concerned- it was their suggestion and not a suggestion of the honourable member or myself- an arrangement whereby there would be a reduction in wages, if this would assist the company in maintaining employment. This proposal was put to the manager last Thursday, I am advised, and it was then dismissed. I spoke with somebody from the company during the course of the discussion with the delegation yesterday and was given an assurance that the proposal would be appropriately examined. I also said that the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations would make any of its personnel and expertise available if employers and the Trades and Labour Council would like some assistance in examining the proposal further.

A proposal of this kind highlights the seriousness of the situation. This is not just a company and it is not just a mine; it is a community which is isolated and in which there are not many other areas of employment. If the employees concerned are prepared to go to these lengths to share the difficulties of the present situation amongst themselves rather than have the total burden fall on 300 or 400 out of the 1000 employees, that is a matter that ought to be examined very closely by the company obviously in prospect of better times with an upturn in copper prices which would enable the operation to go forward on a better basis. I hope that these matters will be very seriously considered. Certainly the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations stands ready to have somebody from his Department visit the area and discuss these matters with the Trades and Labour Council, if that is the Council's wish, and also to discuss the application of any of the standing programs that are administered by the Minister and his Department if they are believed to be relevant. The attitude and the proposal of the deputation which saw me yesterday is certainly to be commended. It ought to be pursued and examined. These proposals are not novel. They might be novel in Australia but in other countries they have been pursued and applied with success and if there is a wish on both sides for them they could be applied with success here.

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