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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 3641

Mr YOUNG (Special Minister of State and Acting Minister for Environment and Industrial Relations)(3.18) —As the people who were subject of the matter of public importance raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr N.A. Brown) were not mentioned, I will start my contribution by saying that we on this side of the House acknowledge the enormously great contribution and hard work of people in the rural areas of Australia. They do not work under the most pleasant conditions. These people are concerned to maintain their families and to maintain a decent standard of living. We represent the people who work in the countryside just as much and just as effectively as we represent the working people in the cities. It is ironic that members of the Opposition make no mention at all of the hundreds and thousands of people who go to work in the rural electorates every day. They merely get up and say: `You have got to work harder. You have got to work for less'. They say that that will be a decent industrial relations system. A few of us have worked in the bush, unlike the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. We know what it is like to work in the bush. We know the traditional attitude of the employers in the bush to those people who work. So, somebody has to speak on their behalf if those opposite will not.

Let me just take the House through the award for those in the pastoral industries to see whether there has not been some flexibility in the system which has affected their award more than it has affected the awards of most other people working in this country. In October 1983 there was a 4.3 per cent national wage increase. It applied to their wages only; it did not apply to any of their allowances. In July 1984 the $11 metal industry adjustment-an absolute disaster which was brought in under the Fraser Government in 1982 and which exploded wages, inflation and unemployment in this country-was passed on to the rural workers. There is a lesson in this for those opposite: They should take note that when they encouraged the negotiation in 1982 and got the wages explosion, which anybody could have anticipated and predicted, it did not stop in the cities. It might have taken two years, but eventually, in 1984, those massive wage increases flowed through to the country workers as well. So, those opposite were not protected by any shield from what they had encouraged in the metal industry awards. That is another thing that the Fraser Government had to live with.

There is a series of decisions: In 1984 the national wage was increased by 4.1 per cent, and again the allowances under the pastoral award were not affected. There was a 2.6 per cent increase in April 1985 and there was a six months delay for pastoral workers in adjusting the allowances. In November 1985 there was a 3.8 per cent wage increase, but again there was no increase in allowances for pastoral workers. There was a 2.3 per cent national wage increase in November of this year which was backdated. Some allowances have been increased; other allowances are subject to review as per the decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission yesterday.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that what we have to do is introduce greater flexibility into our wage fixing system and then we will get better results. Well, I am quite happy to debate that matter with the Opposition today, because we had flexibility between 1976 and 1983. No one could have had greater flexibility. We had full indexation, we had partial indexation, we had direct negotiation and we had a wages freeze. One would have to be pretty uncharitable to say that that was not flexibility. We had these four measures in seven years applying to the wages and salary earners in this country. And what did we have? We had massive inflation; we had massive unemployment; and we had a rundown of all our industries. In the last year of office of those opposite, from April 1982 to April 1983, an additional 250,000 people were put out of work. That was a direct result of the policies that were initiated by the Fraser Government.

What those opposite are trying to tell us in this Parliament in 1986 is that they will go to the next election as clean-skins. Somehow they have all been put through the laundry, have cleaned themselves up and want to tell the people of Australia: `Do not take into account what we did. Take into account what we say we are going to do'. The problem with that is that no one believes them. We all think they are the same tiger. They have the same spots. They had 7 1/2 years in which to enunciate these policies which they are going to enunciate again if they win the next election. Who has the best system? We have lower inflation, lower unemployment and one-third of the industrial disputation. Four million days were lost under the Fraser Government in a particular period and 1.3 million have been lost under this Government. By every measure one wants to apply to industrial relations and the economic performance of this country, we have done better under our system of wage fixing. So, why are those opposite saying now that they want to go back to the old system that they had between 1976 and 1983?

These criticisms come not just from outside the House or from the dreadful trade union movement which those opposite seem to have nightmares about every night. Let me repeat the news release that was put out by the Confederation of Australian Industry last Friday. That Confederation has had ample opportunity to look at the Opposition's Thredbo statement in this nice little pamphlet, which is pretty cheap, I must say. The Opposition cannot be raising much money. Nevertheless, the Opposition is going to break all Australian workers out of bondage. Someone is going to break the chain. That is the policy of the Liberal Party. No one knows what it means. Inside, the pamphlet states that honourable members opposite will give everybody a guaranteed minimum hourly wage. I would like to know what the guaranteed minimum hourly wage is for the pastoral workers whom the honourable member for Menzies so denigrated in the 15 minutes in which he had to speak today by telling them that they were not entitled to any consideration at all. Let us have a look at what the Confederation of Australian Industry had to say. It has examined the Opposition's policy, it has examined the Opposition's pamphlets, it has seen the Opposition's Press releases and it has listened to the speeches of honourable members opposite. I should not have to explain to the Opposition that people in the Confederation of Australian Industry are not affiliated with the Australian Labor Party. What does the CAI say on behalf of employers? It says:

These critics of our centralised industrial system, virtually none of whom have been involved in industrial relations, threaten employers with changes which would create conditions far worse than those that already exist.

These critics of the industrial system seem to believe that the mere existence of industrial tribunals makes things worse rather than improves them.

Their arguments however have nothing to support them but their own personal opinions and in fact represent a grave danger to employers . . .

They advocate massive change with its commensurate risk of massive dislocation, without providing any clear idea as to how this change will be brought about nor any evidence that it will in the end be better for employers.

So there is the view of the employers. Honourable members opposite might recall that the last time they put out an industrial relations policy-I forget who the shadow Minister was then; it might have been the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack)-they got the Liberal Party headquarters to help them disperse all the information that they had to put about. That fellow Trebeck, who honourable members opposite had working over there, decided to put out a memorandum in which he described all the employer representatives and who they had to get on side. It said: `Noakes is not too good, he's only lukewarm towards the Libs at this stage, but we can put a bit of pressure on Bill Dix at Ford and on Chuck Chapman at General Motors'. Their industrial policy was like a policy of the Sandinistas or the like. This is the way in which honourable members opposite were going to operate. They said: `There is one person on whom we can rely not only for 100 per cent support, but also to use his influence everywhere to get people on side for our industrial relations policy-Andrew Hay'. Andrew Hay came to the rescue of the Liberal Party. He is the person who said: `We'll assist you with your new, flexible system'.

We had a full disclosure of the flexible system of the Liberal Party over 7 1/2 years. In the meantime, honourable members opposite have been incapable of sitting down and rationally talking about one of the most important issues in this country that impacts upon almost every other economic measure that this Government might have to deal with-that is, a wages system. They have changed their shadow Ministers, they have changed their leaders. They are incapable of sitting down and asking: `What is the best way for Australia to go? Where will we get the greatest unity? Where will we get least industrial disputation? Where can we assist to get inflation down? How can we help the kids get back to work?'. All these things seem to fade into oblivion. It is far more important to honourable members opposite to have personal disputes in their Party in the hope that they can drag on in the manner in which they are until the next election, in the hope that they can kid someone that the sort of garbage and gibberish that they are putting out in this Parliament about industrial relations will have some influence on the way in which people will vote.

Let me say here and now-I would be embarrassed to say it if the person concerned were present-that one of the most outstanding politicians in this country is our Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) for the job that he has done in taking over from the mess honourable members opposite left in March 1983 and extracting both employers and employees from the wage freeze which honourable members opposite imposed because Henry Bolte had talked to Malcolm Fraser in hospital. This was the gist of the very deep consideration that members of the Liberal Party had given to their wages policy in 1982. By chance, Henry Bolte decided to go and see Malcolm Fraser in hospital and take him some flowers, and when Henry Bolte was walking out he asked: `Why don't you put on a wage freeze?'. Malcolm, in his usual style, after very deep consideration for a full 15 seconds, said: `That's a terrific idea'. Honourable members opposite have talked about all the benefits that would flow to Australians from freezing wages. They have seen the benefits. Their inflation rate was nearly 11 per cent. If the impact of devaluation had not hit Australia in the last 18 months, inflation would be down to between 4 per cent and 5 per cent now. Where would we be with the Opposition's policies?

Members of the Opposition talk about trying to assist the farmers. I repeat what the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said: When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) was in office his Government kept the dollar up because it had no wages policy. Who carried the burden? It was the farmers, who have been assisted by the devaluation now to the order of $2 billion. Then Opposition members say that we are not assisting Australia's competitiveness. Let me tell them that, in comparison with six of our major trading partners, we are 30 per cent more competitive now than we were in 1983.

One of the major reasons why we have been able to do this is our wages system, which has been found to be acceptable not by everybody, not by all employers, not by all unions, but by the vast majority of people. That is the reason why we have had so little industrial disputation in this country. The previous Government presided over a massive blowout in wages; but that did not satisfy people. The previous Government thought that, if it gave people what they wanted and let them negotiate a $17 a week increase, that would be a great thing for those who got it. Firstly, it could not be locked in. In 1984, two years later, it flowed on to everybody, including all the rural workers, at the worst possible time for employers in the rural sector. Nevertheless, it flowed on. That was followed by a wage freeze. The previous Government blew inflation through the ceiling and put out of work an additional quarter of a million people.

As I have said, by whatever comparison, by whatever chart, by whatever barometer, we can compare the previous Government's performance and its policies with the way in which we have been able to handle problems, not only the problems we inherited but also the massive restructuring that Australia is undergoing at the moment as a result of the drop in prices for the commodities we export. That is something the previous Government did not have to live with. Throughout 1986 we have been subjected to scathing criticism from members of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia, who say that we should have done better. Considering the decisions made overseas that have impacted upon Australia in the last year or 18 months, we are reaching the end of 1986 in a much healthier position than one could have predicted 12 or 18 months ago. We have had some very difficult decisions to make in reaching that position.

We have made some very difficult decisions in the tax area. Again, one of the reasons why we have an agreement on wages is that we have talked to the wage and salary earners about a fairer tax system, about stopping all the rorts and giving tax cuts to the wage and salary earners, which they should have had years ago. The previous Government left the tax rates at 46c, 48c and 60c in the dollar. It crippled everybody in this country with the marginal rates of tax and at the same time it allowed all the rorts to continue. It did not mind what happened on the other side of the tax equation. It just let it go on. Well, we have said to the wage and salary earners in Australia that from 1 December and 1 July next year $4.5 billion will go back to them in tax cuts. We have built the environment to get a decent wages outcome so that we can plan ahead. Employers want to know what will happen. Our system will be far more acceptable than the system being offered by the other side.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister's time has expired. The honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for Moreton will cease interjecting.

Mr Donald Cameron —I have hardly moved my lips.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —You have moved your lips sufficiently to interject, and you will cease doing it.