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Address by Ian Sinclair



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ADDRESS BY THE R T . HON. IAN SINCLAIR, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS TO THE SYDNEY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE LUNCHEON, WENTWORTH HOTEL, SYDNEY, 1.30 P.M., FRIDAY, 13 MARCH, 1981

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As some of you are a w a r e , this morning I have attended the

inauguration of a diverse a n d , in the Australian political

context, a unique special interest group, known.at the

Australian Telecommunication Users Group.

Its.existence signifies quite clearly that the business

community in its widest sense is coming face to face with

the enormous technological changes in just one area: of

their expertise - the field of communications.

Probably in no other area at present do people in business

face such a bewildering array;, of new concepts as they do in

the electronic revolution.

At least, the "electronic revolution" was what the advertising

community called the technological changes that are taking

place in the communications area when I spoke to them a week

or so ago. .

They thought the generic term of technological change was not

really "whiz bang" enough to illustrate their feeling.

There is the potential for those bright people who have become

involved in the electronic revolution to turn from whiz kids

into gee whiz kids by becoming victims of the Wellsian

avalanche of instant new knowledge.

The practicalities of it all remain well founded . in economic _

reality through an understanding of the advantages of a

sophisticated telecommunication a n d .electronic network over

Australia's vast distances, v

The Myer Report on Technological Change reached into many of

these new world challenges.

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That report indicated clearly a number of economic benefits

that would be arising out of technological c h a n g e .

There are a number of mechanisms created in the new technology

wh i c h , when adop t e d , are able to satisfy needs at a lower cost.

Benefits flow through the economy and through individual firms

where increased efficiency - through the changes - actually

keep firms in existence, and therefore maintain jobs'and keep

the entrepreneurial skills alive..

In other businesses the higher returns can mean new jobs and

more competition against imports - this leads on to investment

in new production facilities. . . .

For individuals there are h i g h e r . w a g e s , increased dividend/s and

lower prices - all leading to increases in disposable income

which, in an efficient e c o n o m y , leads to growth.

The Myer Committee drew on extensive overseas experience to .

show.the technological change quite.certainly generated increased

income through all levels.

There has been strong union talk this week on the fundamental

changes new technology will force in the w o r k p l a c e .

The A.C.T.U. Executive yesterday endorsed.a motion from a

conference of affiliated federal unions which called on it

to take a tougher, stance on.the introduction of new technology.

The A.C.T.U. Executive said it would do as.the motion called

for, and that is: "... to launch as. a matter of urgency a

sustained campaign... to focus attention upon mass unemployment

to which the developing technological revolution contributes."

Thijs. was not years a g o , but y e s t e r d a y ; not some LUDDITE '

movement, but the Executive of the A.C.T.U.

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If there should be mass unemployment, it is far more likely to

flow from the implentation of such a resolution than from a

meaningful attempt by trade unionists and employer groups* alike

to.turn the benefits and job opportunities of new technology to

their advantage. '

Regrettably, the A.C.T.U. seems beset by fear. Fear of the

implications of new technology for e m ployment. Unfortunately,

it is directing its attention to the negative, rather than the

positive effects changed technology can bring. / r . · ■ , ' ". '

While there will be an effect on a range of present jobs,

particularly for the unskilled,. many of these are repetitive

and tedious. . . .

Replacing such tasks mechanically, c a n . be related to the contrast

between the washing machine laundry technique of today's house­

hold to the copper and scrub board of grandmother's day.

Of course/ that does not necessarily mean that housewives have

more leisure t i m e ; what.it means.is that they are able to

direct their time and attention to other more productive efforts.

Similarly, new technology means different job opportunities

more meaningful and less onerous, than of yesteryear. It means

new education requirements and new training for s k i l l s .

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The fear of c h a n g e , however, should not retard change itself.

Indeed, I believe the A.C.T.U. should co-operate with employers,

government and private industry bodies such as yours in seeking

positive ways by which new technology can be turned to the

advantage of Australia's workforce, rather than its detriment. .

The Myer.Report quite clearly points out that some technological

change means jobs lost in some areas , but new jobs are created .

elsewhere.

The Report also clearly states there is no evidence that the

present level of unemployment is due to the effects of technological

change - rather it is more related to economic conditions.

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And when applied to the union movement it draws strong

conclusions in a number of recommendations that union

amalgamations are better weapons for the movement to face

up to the changes of the 80's and 9 0 1 s . .

Industry based unions can better handle the practicalities

of technological change than the old craft and job based

unions.

The existence of problems in wage structures related to the

present union structure has created the long term adverse

consequences o n . our abilities to..meet technological changes.

Further, the Myer Committee recommends that the ability of

. the Australian community to maximise the benefits of techno­

logical changes and minimise p r o b l e m s , is crucially dependent

on provision of appropriate education and possible re-training

The costs involved in technological change include, to a large

degree, the price of training or re-training the technical

staff so vital for expansion and growth.

At the same t i m e , there is an overall problem of meeting the

prospective skill shortages which has highlighted the need for

further increases in trade training!

At last the State Governments are offering some co-operation

in the Federal "Government's drive to improve trade training

opportunities right across Australia.

The prime problem is the lack of flexibility in the Australian

apprenticeship system.

The Federal Government has strongly recommended that the

States join a dollar-for-dollar funding for group apprentice­

ship = : schemes to increase the number of apprentices, especially

in the areas of skill shortage.

This is one step to open up more training opportunities for

young Australians. ‘

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The plan emphasises the Federal Government's commitment to

the expansion of the whole range of Technical and Further

Education (TAFE) options for the young people of Australia.

In particular, new priorities must be given to the development

projects to meet particular skill n e e d s , the removal of

impediments'to training from Federal a w a r d s , and the up-dating

and improvement of curricular throughout the TAFE institutions.

An example is the 19 years old cut-off point for the entry of

Australians into apprenticeships, which is the effective result

of the 23 years old age limit for completion of apprenticeships

under virtually all Federal awards, particularly in the metal

industries. . .

In the context of both technological change and the demands for

skills for the resources boom, this seems an obvious area for

reconsideration, the better to allow people of any age to

acquire trade t raining, not necessarily through apprenticeships.

The $1,000 grant of the CRAFT Apprenticeship bonus is to be

concluded on 30 J u n e , 1981 so employers are being encouraged to

take advantage of the Scheme and add extra apprentices n o w .

The tax free subsidies under CRAFT of up to $2,800 per year

for apprentices attending approved courses under the off-the-

job training rebate, and the $2,500 technical education rebate are

both to continue.

The major step in the Federal/State plans is for the development

of programmes for upgrading suitable semi-skilled workers in

short indentures along with expanding pre-apprenticeship courses

and shorter indentures for those with appropriate education .

qualifications or special experience.

**■ NSW is a resource rich stateswhere the need for more well-trained skilled workers is as evident as anywhere in Australia. .

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The development of the coal resources, aluminium smelting and

the huge range of infrastructure projects which are part of

today's resource explosion, alone will call for a greatly

increasing number of skilled workmen in the metal, electrical

and building trades.

Trade training must rank high in the;pfiorities of a Government

keen to see the resources of the State developed.

Equally, it must rank high in the thoughts of the private

sector employers who will be involved in this resource

development and. in the social developments that must be

associated. ; .

If Governments and employers are involved,, so too should the

trade union.movement. .

Of course, it is not just those with a direct involvement that

will be the only beneficiaries of the resource development and

technological change - it is our whole community.

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It will bring different parameters .to the society and to the home

We need, as citizens, to be conscious of the benefits and not

just the cost. . · · . ·

We need to positively determine how our society can utilise

these new opportunities r a t h e r .than :shy .away from-them.

Certainly, it is for our children who need, within their

present education system, to have opportunities to comprehend

the use of switchboards -and computers, and visual display

units and instant printouts.

The speed of access to knowledge should widen the availability

of knowledge. .

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The reading, writing and rithmatic base needs to be expanded

so that tomorrow's "adults accept the technological revolution

as easily as today's television screen. "