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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1245

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - The presentation of the annual Budget is properly a time for national accounting, ft is a time when the Parliament is entitled to examine the record and achievements of the government in office over the previous 12 months. Where a government has been in office for a considerable period it is also a time when the Parliament and the people are entitled to examine what has been achieved during that period. In the past 12 months one of the major achievements of the Government has been to destroy completely any confidence which existed in the Australian community in the Government's ability to give sound leadership and to provide constructive thought on the problems of the nation. Another major achievement of the year has been the number of promises made by the Government during the Senate and House of Representatives election campaigns which have been deferred and which for all practical purposes have disappeared from the public record.

It is quite obvious that many of the promises made by the Government and many of its statements in its platform for re-election in 1969 had and still have no meaning. In any field which we like to examine we can truthfully say that this Parliament and this Government are no longer in command of the nation's affairs. We have a day to day situation where we are not even sure who will come into the Parliament tomorrow as Prime Minister, let alone that we will have a continuity of the policies of the Government. When a change in the Prime Ministership took place earlier this year we were told that the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) had a mandate because it was the party which was elected to govern and not an individual. If we accept that and accept what the previous Prime Minister put forward as election policies on behalf of that party we have to reject the projected theory that the new Prime Minister had the right to repudiate policies on which the Government sought and obtained its mandate.

In this debate today, as has been the case over a considerable period of time, the major emphasis of most speakers on the Government side of the House, particularly the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), has been that for all the ills of the nation there are no other villains than the people who belong to trade unions. The Minister for Social Services used such phrases as 'organised sabotage' and 'a deliberate campaign to destroy the national economy'. He projected his own belief that there is a trade unionist behind every tree and a Communist under every bed. In what can be described only as something closely approaching hysteria, he attributed every ill that has ever been heard of in Australia to those people who, according to his point of view, are trying to destroy the national economy and the nation. He said that it was in their interests to do so. I find this difficult to understand.

It is my belief that the millions of people who belong to trade unions in Australia are responsible people, people whose major interests in life are to provide themselves and their families with a decent standard of living and to live at peace with the community, without taking a very active part in politics - most trade unionists do not take a very active part in politics - without making excessive demands on the community but expecting from the community that which they have a right to expect in a society with a standard of living as high as the Australian society has. It appears that Government members do not agree with this. They do not agree that those people who work for their wages are citizens of equal standing with those who operate businesses or make their money by financial manipulations, by nefarious practices or by manipulating the stock exchange. The latter are the goodies, according to the Government. They are the people we ought to respect; we should not respect the people who produce the goods that create the wealth of the country because they are trying to destroy the economy of the country.

A campaign has been directed, mainly by members of the Australian Country Party, at creating fear in the rural sections of the economy about the prospects of a reduction in the working week. The people who work in the rural sections work a 44- hour week and not a 40-hour week. The people who are engaged in production in our community, who produce the national wealth, work a 40-hour week. Those people who are engaged in service industries, tertiary industries and those industries which are able to operate only because of the productive capacity of people in business and management to work in other areas, in the main work less than a 40-hour week. Apparently, if a third of the employees work less than a 40-hour week the nation's economy will not be destroyed. Only those people who create the wealth in the community will not be allowed to have the benefit of the additional leisure that a reduced working week would create.

One-third of Australians now work less than a 40-hour week, but they are not people who are engaged in production. The crime of those people who would seek to reduce their working hours is that if they reduce their hours the other sections of the community which already have these benefits may well find themselves in difficulty maintaining their situation. Over a long period the Government has been subject to fits of hysteria. Over a few weeks or a few months an hysterical situation has been built up by Government members in relation to some section or other of our national activities. Some of it has been totally irrelevant and some of it relevant. Al the end of such a period we usually have new legislation passed through the Parliament as a matter of urgency. Last session we had a law and order Bill, the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Bill.

In 1967 the Defence Force Protection Bill was passed. Back as far as 1961, in one of the great hysterias of all time, we had amendments to the Crimes Act. Those Bills were all forced through thus Parliament in such a way as to give the impression that unless they were passed the whole nation would grind to a stop. They were forced through the Parliament with the belief expressed by the Minister for Social Services paramount in Government thinking, that the nation was about to be destroyed. It is interesting to realise that no people have been charged under the amendments to the Crimes Act in its first 10 years of operation, even though it was found necessary to guillotine the Bill through the Parliament because it was so necessary for the national security. To my knowledge, no-one has been charged under the provisions of the Defence Force Protection Act, despite the fact that people deliberately flouted the Act and deliberately broke the provisions of the Act and brought that fact to the attention of the Attorney-General.

The Government acted in plain, common hysteria designed to divide the nation.

That was the basis of those Acts. More recently a similar campaign has been mounted about secret ballots. Government members, quite obviously acting under instructions, have tried to create hysteria about the need for secret ballots before strikes. Unfortunately, someone had not done his homework; but someone else had, and he exposed the fact that the provisions for secret ballots already exist under section 45 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act but they are not applied. State governments friendly to the present Commonwealth Government, governments of kindred spirits, are also providing for secret ballots. But in no dispute involving those State governments where federal awards were involved have any of those State governments ever requested that a ballot be taken.

It seems to me to be somewhat hypocritical and irresponsible for a government to profess that the provision of this type of legislation would be the end-all and solution for all industrial problems when those provisions already exist and that government has not had either the capacity or the will to use those provisions or request their use. 1 suggest that the basis of the whole proposition is political and that little or no real effort of responsible government has been involved. Trade unionists are people who work for their living. If they lose a day's work through strikes or for any other reason they lose one-fifth of their week's income. They have no way at all of recovering that income. It is a permanent and total loss. I can assure the House that people who are involved in this sort of situation are not easily talked into striking. They are not easily talked into losing the margin over the bread line which they have.

Many Australian industries pay very low wages which nowhere near approach the figures for the national average male wage so often quoted by Government members. About 70 per cent of Australians earn less than the average male wage, and a good proportion have a take home pay which is less than half that amount. So to lose onefifth of one week's income in a high price, high interest economy such as we have is not a step to be taken lightly. We have heard much talk about inflation. We are told by the Government often enough that the solution to inflation is for those people who work for their wages, and only those people, to accept a situation in which they will cease to have rising incomes, in which no increases in their incomes will take place in future. If only the wage earners would stop asking for wage rises all of the nation's problems could be solved, Government members say. It may be more true to say that if we had an effective Government in this country the nation's problems would be on the way to solution. But it is not true to say that if wage earners were to reduce their standard of living progressively, as advocated by the Government, their problems would be solved.

I think we should have a short look at some of the inflationary actions which have been taken by the Government. The Budget this year does not contain payroll tax. It is not a budgetary item because it has been transferred to the States. But in Victoria payroll tax this year has increased by 75 per cent. That is not a bad increase in a tax which is known to be inflationary and which is known to increase costs by at least double the amount they normally would increase.

Hospital charges in Victoria have increased by 50 per cent. This increase is not likely to affect those people who do not get sick but it is a tragic situation for persons who do, even if they are able to afford to cover themselves with health insurance under the scheme which was introduced by the Government. We were told at the time of the last election that this scheme would involve a very small increase for contributors. Hospital benefit contributions in Victoria have increased by one-third, substantially above the increases which have taken place in wages, I suggest. The cost of telephone calls is going up by 20 per cent and the cost of stamps has risen by 40 per cent in 12 months. Interest rates have risen 20 per cent in 2 to 3 years. Is the Government suggesting that these actions, which it has taken itself, are not inflationary? These costs have to be borne by wage earners in greater proportion than by most other sections of the community, and wage earners have less capacity to recover increased costs than do most other sections of the community.

During question time today the Prime Minister indicated that a substantial pro portion - he made it sound as though it was more than a small proportion of those persons unemployed - were in fact unemployable. If one takes the trouble to look at the eastern States of Australia and examine the particulars concerning persons who are in receipt of unemployment benefits and examine where they are located, the only conclusion one can draw is that the Prime Minister thinks that the people who live in non-metropolitan areas are mainly unemployable. I would not subscribe to that theory for one moment. These are the facts: Those people who are beyond doubt proven to be unemployed and who are in receipt of unemployment benefit in the metropolitan areas in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland total 4,326. In the same States in nonmetropolitan areas 9,603 persons are in receipt of unemployment benefits. This is more than double the number in the 3 capital cities of those States, despite a population differential which would amount to at least three to one in favour of the capital cities.

Is it suggested that there is not a crisis in non-metropolitan employment in the eastern States of. Australia at least? 1 have not had time to do the calculations for the other States. Is it suggested by anyone in this House that we can pass off a problem like this just by saying that most of these people are unemployable anyhow? There is not one shred of evidence in the Budget or in any statement made in this Parliament which indicates that the Government is prepared to take any action or is contemplating taking any action to promote industry and employment in non-metropolitan areas. It is not only the unemployed persons who suffer in this situation. The business people in the communities and the communities themselves suffer because the wages which are paid to people are the wherewithal upon which the economies of these non-metropolitan towns exist. Unemployment benefits are a cost, and it could well be economically feasible that the expenditure of the amounts of money which are being paid in unemployment benefits to promote the development of industries in these areas would be an investment which would yield a profit in years to come. That is of course if the Government's policy is to promote employment in these areas and if it is not a fact that the Government's policy is to hamstring inflation by creating unemployment. That has always been a theory of conservative economics - a theory which I would hope that the Government rejects but which its current attitudes would suggest that it does not reject.

Finally I raise one other matter that should have arisen in the Budget but which did not. lt is not related to the other matters that I have spoken about. I refer to the problem of nursing care for aged persons. There has been no increase for a number of years in the level of aged persons nursing home subsidies wilh the result that the burdens and the problems associated with this have grown tremendously in magnitude. Those people who have sons and daughters who are able to maintain them are fortunate but the sons and daughters are placed in the position that whilst they are maintaining their parents they can make no claims for tax deductions on the amounts which are expended. Therefore they must carry a double burden in this field. No old people want to be a burden on their children and no children want to sec their parents in circumstances of need. I think that humanitarian considerations alone would demand that action be taken in this field as soon as possible. The costs of nursing home care are rising alarmingly. The provision of assistance at government level is not rising. I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and I believe that the Budget for 1971-72 is a document of which this Parliament cannot be proud.

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