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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 300

Mr McGAURAN(3.23) —With your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall now return to the debate at hand. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr Robert Brown) took us a long way away from that debate, which is to discuss the success or otherwise of the much vaunted National Economic Summit Conference. It appears that the honourable member for Hunter has an obsession with my colleague the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) as well as for the Premier of Queensland. I suspect that is because the honourable member for Hunter is in awe of both of them. You will have observed, Mr Deputy Speaker, as would all members in this chamber, that the honourable member for Hunter had nothing to say about the Summit. That is for the simple reason that there is very little that one can say about it. However, that did not disturb him from completing 20 minutes of debate in an avalanche of words and emotions somewhat similar to those of the recent Summit. It would appear that the honourable member for Hunter followed on from the Summit, in that words are very easy and very cheap but action and intellect are another matter altogether.

This debate is taking place some 19 weeks after the Summit was completed. That lapse of time allows us to have a rational consideration of its success or otherwise. In other words, it allows us to separate the rhetoric from the substance. By any criteria, that Summit has failed to live up to its expectations and its promises. Indeed, it appears to be the hallmark of this Government that promises are easily made and then people's hopes are cruelly dashed by the non-fulfillment of those promises. We have certainly seen evidence of that in recent days, but it started during the election campaign and continued in the Economic Summit.

I wish to speak today on the nexus between unemployment and wage rises as it was addressed by the Summit. Before getting to that matter, it is of interest to discuss the setting of the Summit and the participants involved. It needs to be said first that it is a fine idea to sit around a table, to encompass the whole spectrum of political, economic and social ideas. Indeed, that is an area in which the previous Government was very active. The previous Government set up industry advisory councils. It set up Budget consultations prior to the bringing down of a Budget. That process, incidentally, has been abolished. Further, in the field of industrial relations in 1977 it set up the National Labour Consultative Council. It also held tripartite conferences, the last one being as late as July 1982, which brought together government, employers and unions to discuss matters relating to industrial relations. Those forums were very important for consultation between Government, employers and unions. So the idea of consensus or discussion is not original, it is not new. It was practised by the previous Government in an attempt to bring about harmony in the field of industrial relations.

It also needs to be said that the people who came to the Summit came at great inconvience and with the best intentions. It was not their fault that they were conned. It was not their fault that they were manipulated by the Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Their intentions were honourable. The simple fact is that the Government and the ACTU had a majority at the Summit and , in the words of the former Leader of the House, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young): 'When you have the numbers, use them'. That is just typical of the bully boy tactics that were adopted at the Summit and have been adopted in this House since.

A number of people were left out of the Summit, and I refer particularly to women in the community. I have had a large number of representations on this matter, as have my colleagues, who are sensitive to the matter of women's affairs, from women who felt that they were not properly represented. Certainly the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) was present at the Summit, but we must remember that she is a member of the Government and would follow the Party line. Furthermore, small businesses were disgracefully absent from the Summit. It is difficult to comprehend a government which feels it can keep wages to a minimum and create employment if it does not have proper regard to small business, unquestionably the largest employer of people in this country .

I return now to the most important aspect of the Summit, that is, as the Premier of New South Wales said, jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the criterion on which we can judge the success or otherwise of the Summit. Where are the jobs? Of course, as the Premier of New South Wales realises, there is a nexus between wages and unemployment. This Government desperately needs an injection of realism, a realism that acknowledges that the competing interests of the parties at the Summit cannot just be glossed over; they cannot be swept aside. A government must weigh up the competing interests and decide what is best for the Australian economy, which is, of course, the creation of employment. Instead, the Government by its consensus approach chose to evade its responsibility for making decisions and took the easy option, which was to get people together, have a pre-set, already formulated communique, and then under the pretence of consensus and reconciliation try to market the product. It simply does not work. It fell to pieces very quickly after the Summit, as evidenced by a radio interview given by the President of the ACTU, Mr Cliff Dolan, on 18 May. On the AM program he was asked this question about the unions' application for indexation:

Q. If the Commission then knocks back such a claim, will you accept it?

His answer was:

A. Well, they will put themselves out of business as far as I see it. There will be just no role for the Arbitration Commission because unions will seek to achieve that increase.

A further question was asked of Mr Dolan:

Q. Is this the industrial free for all you are talking about?

A. That is right.

If that definition of consensus and conciliation is that of the Prime Minister ( Mr Hawke) and members of his Government, then quite simply they should either go back to school or those of us on this side will lend them a very good dictionary .

Mr Lusher —Only when it suits them.

Mr McGAURAN —Only when it suits them, as the honourable member for Hume says, and that is absolutely so. It suits this Government to play that game to serve its own purposes.

Mr Campbell —What would you do except bash the unions?

Mr McGAURAN —Unfortunately and regrettably, the Government lacked the courage to stand firm against the demands of the ACTU at the Summit and it rejected the continuation of the wages pause. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) asked what honourable members on this side of the House would do. We would continue the wages pause, and we would continue it for the reasons that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) put to the Summit when he suggested that if the wages pause continued, as set out in scenario C, 100,000 jobs would be created. By refusing to accept scenario C, which recommended the continuation of the wages pause, this Government has sentenced 100,000 Australians to unemployment, because that is how many jobs could have been created with a continuation of the wages pause. Honourable members opposite have to wear that; they have to live with it. We know our position. They hide behind a barrage of words but they cannot escape the fact that they have sentenced 100,000 Australians to the unemployment lines. Scenario C, as set out by the Treasurer, was that the wages policy would continue.

My friend the honourable member for Hunter referred to the Premier of Queensland in less than complimentary terms. That was certainly predictable because the honourable member for Hunter and his colleagues would not recognise a successful government if it was forced upon them. But honourable members opposite have to answer the question that Queenslanders are at the moment answering in the affirmative: Why is Queensland's population growing? We cannot give the Premier credit for everything. Why has it had an unparalleled and envied rate of economic growth in the 13 years since the Premier has been in office? The fact is that the Premier of Queensland is a man who has a total commitment to free enterprise, and the system of free enterprise is the best way of achieving economic growth which will result in jobs. We can stimulate the public sector to the nth degree but we will not create long term employment because this will not create profit and growth. I suspect that this Government is not interested in the slightest in creating profits. Again that has been made clear in the last few days. The Premier of Queensland, as I said, has presided over a decade of unending growth. He came to the Summit. He knew it was a setup; he knew the communique was already being typed, and furthermore he knew that the Summit was a cynical attempt to lock the participants into a centralised wage fixation system which, as Mr Dolan made very clear on 18 May, is to be disregarded when it suits him. The Summit was also to lock the participants into the acceptance of a high deficit which punishes the private sector because of the resultant inflation and interest rate levels. The Premier of Queensland has been proved to be right already.

Mr Ian Cameron —Of course; he is right all the time.

Mr McGAURAN —The honourable member for Maranoa said that the Premier of Queensland is right all the time. I accept that. The problem with Government members discussing the Premier of Queensland is that they are totally unable to explain Queensland's extraordinary growth over 13 years in comparison to the growth of the State of New South Wales in particular and the State of South Australia under the years of Labor rule.

We have only to look at the present situation to know that the Summit was a total failure. The Government is agreeing to a 4.3 per cent increase before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. That increase is, of course, the increase in the consumer price index since March 1983. It is simply a farce. Every time we agree to index wages or to grant higher wage increases outside the centralised wage fixing system we cost jobs. The honourable member for O'Connor has already touched on some of the outrageous applications at the moment-for example, by employees of H. J. Heinz Co. Australia Ltd in particular and in the building industry-so there is no need for me to cover that ground. I reiterate that the previous Government brought about consultation and discussion many times. This Government elevated forgery and fraud to a new level by bringing people from all over Australia into this chamber, after pretending that it was an alternative government, and finally locking them into an inescapable communique which demanded ccentralised wage fixation and a high deficit. In other words the Summit was a cynical exercise on the part of the Prime Minister, who professes his honesty, and his Cabinet.