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Friday, 3 December 1976

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - This Government, having failed to honour the grandiose promises with which it conned its way to power, seeks a scapegoat to divert attention from its manifest inadequacies in the economic field. That scapegoat is the elected trade union leadership of Australia. Despite with the sleight of hand men, the manipulators of truth on the other side, may say, its leadership is democratically elected. In the long and shameful history of union bashing by conservative parties, this arch conservative Government stands supreme. There is no limit to the depths to which this Government and its spokesmen will sink, no limit to the subterfuge to which it will resort to denigrate and try to destroy responsible trade unionism in this country. According to this Government the unions are responsible for everything bad and for everything that goes wrong. There is no suggestion that the Government itself, by its own incompetence, is stifling recovery in Australia and wilfully- let us be frank about it- maintaining unemployment at historically high levels to the great distress of many thousands of Australians. Instead of buckling down to tackle the twin problems of inflation and unemployment in a comprehensive way, the Government attacks only the wages component of the economy, as though Australians do not have a right to maintain their standard of living. It is carrying out in a ruthless way its announced policy of reducing the real wages of Australians while sliding about all over the place in other areas of the economy.

Two areas come to mind in which the Government is spear-heading its assault on the trade unions. One with which I will deal briefly is the shipbuilding industry. The other is the Newport power station in Victoria which I will deal with at some length. Shipbuilding is an industry which one would expect would be in line with the Government's own philosophy- or whatever it is called- to maintain. It would seem a good idea to keep viable such an industry, particularly when so many more jobs are at stake and whose loss would further aggravate the problem of unemployment.

Instead of being honest about the matter the Government does the opposite to the Mafia, which it closely resembles, and makes the unions an offer they cannot possibly accept. It then blames the unions for being irresponsible in not accepting the offer. Such manifest double dealing is something one does not expect from a responsible government which says it has the future of Australia at heart. Union leaders have rightly condemned the offer, while good working people of the city of Newcastle remain in fear of the loss of their livelihood.

This brings me to the Newport issue. It is appropriate to raise this matter in this place because the Draconian measures taken by the Victorian Government against the trade unions have been enthusiastically applauded by this Government's leaders. Trade union leaders visiting this country in past weeks have been appalled both by the nature of the Government's so-called offer on shipbuilding and by the savagery of the Victorian response on Newport. They say that no trade union in the world could accept either. Let us look at what the unions have done in Victoria over the Newport issue. Certainly they have maintained bans on the building of this power station, but they have done so for good and cogent reasons which have been supported by men of science and others in the community who have been led to say: 'Thank God for the unions because they are the only thing standing between the community and potential disaster'. The unions did not take their decision lightly. The Newport issue has been the subject of long and intelligent debate. By a majority vote the unions came down on the side of maintaining the bans. Now they have gone further in a genuine effort to find a compromise which has been lacking in the Victorian Government's approach to this problem.

The unions have asked for a wide-ranging inquiry into Victoria's power requirements and an examination of alternative sites for the power station. Let us look at the proposed terms of reference for such an inquiry. It will inquire into the necessity for an intermediate load power station, including an assessment of the present capacity to ascertain whether it can provide for present and future variations in demand. It will inquire into the State Electricity Commission projections on electrical energy needs and the capacity of the system to supply them. It will examine alternative sources of power and the ability to deliver that power in Victoria, particularly through a stabilisation technology for the system. It will examine matters not considered by the previous Newport inquiry- land use, resource use, the economics of electricity generation by natural gas, decentralisation and aesthetics. It will assess alternative sites existing in Victoria for new power stations. I ask: Is that irresponsible? Is that holding the State to ransom? Is that an attempt to take over from the elected Government? It certainly is not. It is a reasonable conclusion reached by concerned men and women with the future needs, comforts and prosperity of the people of Victoria very much in mind.

Do we get this level of concern from the other side? Do we get an intelligent approach which seeks to look at the problem of all energy resources in the broad and to make the most efficient use of all resources? We do not. What we get is an exercise in the politics of confrontation, an almost lunatic determination to build the Newport power station at all costs, to the extent that the issue has become the focus of crisis in Victoria. The hysterical reaction of the Hamer Government to the continuation of the unions' ban on the building of the Newport power station demonstrates that its professed concern for the people of that State is hypocritical. That Government's solution to the stopping of one project is to stop all projects, including schools, hospitals, and sewerage and water installations, which are all vitally needed by the community. The next trick in the Hamer Government's reactionary repertoire is to introduce anti-union legislation within the politics of confrontation to create havoc and civil strife. This Government selfrighteously says that the unions have acted contrary to the interests of the people of Victoria and that it gets back to the simple question of who is running the State. The unions are saying in the first instance that the power station is not required at the proposed Newport site; that it should be built elsewhere. They are saying further that a power station of the type proposed for the Newport site may not be needed at all, and there is abundant evidence to support this second contention.

It has been put to the people of Melbourne that the opposition to Newport is being mounted by a coalition of the power-hungry Left and unrealistic eco-freaks. This Government denegrates responsible people who make up such bodies as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Port Phillip Conservation Council and the Williamstown Conservation Society. Certainly the environment- the pollution of an already polluted atmosphere-is an issue in the struggle against the Newport proposal. But it is not the only one. The use of land resources close to the city, the wicked misuse of scarce fuel resources- indeed the whole question of a rational resource policy- are equally factors in the Newport debate. All of these factors have been ignored by the empire building bureaucracy of the State Electricity Commission and by the Hamer Government.

Let us deal with the environmental issue first before getting down to the issue of whether the Newport power station or something like it is needed in Victoria. One scientific opinion on air pollution and the Newport issue concludes:

The photochemical air pollution problem in Melbourne is already bad, and it will get worse -

I interpolate and say 'if -

Newport begins operating. To allow these increases, plus that from Newport, to be added to an already bad situation seems to indicate that the official goal of the Environment Protection Authority and the Government that is to clean up Melbourne's air pollution is not being taken seriously.

Another opinion concludes that the emission of oxides of nitrogens for Newport 'will contribute to the severity and probably the frequency of photochemical smogs over Melbourne, which ave been increasing in recent years'. Mr I. C. Cochrane, lecturer in electrical engineering at the University of Melbourne, makes this comment on the Newport project:

The Newport station was intended to provide electric power for weekday industrial and domestic load plateau of many hundreds of megawatts. Because it would pollute Melbourne and deplete the natural gas resources of the State its construction was banned by the trade unions. However the load plateau can be reduced and the need for Newport eliminated, given appropriate policy and consumer cooperation.

Mr Yates - Waffle.

Mr INNES - The SEC drones on-like the honourable member's bees, and we have learned to live with that- about the absolute need for the Newport power station to cater for assumed levels of demand for electric power in the future. It is quite clear that the predicted demand is a direct result of the SEC's own prodigal marketing and tariff policies in the absence of i rational energy policy. The SEC has actively discouraged community awareness. The Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee), who is carrying on a conversation with the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and who sold his soul for the front bench, is probably riving some unwieldy words of advice. The need for energy conservation has encouraged high levels of energy use. Ms Deborah White, a lecturer in building science at the University of Melbourne, in a penetrating study of whether we can afford the Newport power station, had this to say:

Not only is the need for Newport the direct and predictable result of the SEC's past marketing and tariff policies, but the Commission's present policies are designed to continue exponential growth in energy consumption into the twenty-first century. With a predicted growth rate of 6.6 per cent, this means that demand will be encouraged to double every 1 1 years. By the year 2020 consumption of electricity is expected (hoped?) to increase 16 times. Meanwhile Victoria's population growth rate has dropped to less than 1 per cent and is likely to decline steadily.

Researcher White goes on to say:

It is clear that it is in fact the enormous predicted increase in the use of domestic electric appliances by 1988 for which Newport is said to be needed. The increased consumption is in all cases at least partly the direct result of SEC promotion and marketing. The SEC, however, continues to threaten the community with industrial power shortages, stand-downs and unemployment if Newport is not built immediately.

The Newport power station represents a wantonly wasteful use of the ndeniably scarce resource of natural gas. In fact, it must come as a surprise to many people that you need to use natural gas to run an intermediate electric power generating plant such as that proposed for Newport. Using gas to supply electricity requires at least 1.7 times the gas required by the more direct gas stove. The competition to sell resourcewasteful electric stoves in competition with the Gas and Fuel Corporation, which operates under the same Minister, is an indictment of the lack of a fuels policy in the Victorian Government. High peak loads are also the most expensive to supply. The reduction of electric stove installations and the substitution of gas stoves would reduce the total demand curve to provide a more efficient plant use and resource use.

Time does not permit me to go into other alternatives which the evidence suggests are available to Newport. If the alternatives I have put and others are in contention then the inquiry requested by the Victorian unions would determine the best course of action. That is the reality of Newport. That is the sane position and if this Government and other watchdogs of conservatism and reaction in this country would stop baying their demented chorus of hatred against unions we might get somewhere. The annual growth rate projected by the SEC clearly is not sustainable. The Swedish government has recognised the problem of exponential energy consumption rates and is considering a policy which would limit annual growth rates to no more than 2 per cent up to 1985 and from thereon they would either be maintained at that constant level or they would decrease.

The Fraser Government is carrying out this campaign of union bashing in order to pour the ills of the economy over the trade union movement. The Fraser Government has failed to coerce such people as Sir John Moore and his colleagues of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and to force them to become puppets of the Government as regulators of the economy. Having failed, the Minister at the table has got some people in his DepartmentI would like the Minister to reply to this point- to set up the ways and means by which the Government can put the manacles on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and have it do the Government's dirty work for it by forcing a wage freeze. As far as I am concerned the traditional role of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is to settle industrial disputes as an independent authority without its being coerced by the Minister or by the Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who goes back to 1957 to get a prop for his Government. If the Government contemplates such a step it should have the guts to go to the Australian people on the issue. I offer the warning that attempts to destroy the principles of conciliation and arbitration in the industrial arena has resulted in the demise of governments lead by Stanley Melbourne Bruce in Australia and Mr Edward Heath in the United Kingdom. The same fate awaits this incompetent Government. If the Government believes that it is going to lead the Australian people up the garden path by this deception then it has another think coming. It will not alter the fact that the Government is on a disaster course. It is destroying the Australian economy and trying to batter the Australian unions into submission.

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