Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1366

Senator RAE (Tasmania) - I wish to refer relatively briefly to the somewhat remarkable allegations made last night by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to the Heavy Engineering Manufacturing Association. Those allegations and statements prove that Mr Whitlam has a serious lack of knowledge of the subject matter and an even more serious lack of sympathy for the problems confronting so many areas of Australia, including in particular the area of Launceston to which he referred specifically. The Prime Minister has petulantly attempted to defend the impossible in supporting his Government's tariff decisions, but in doing so he has found it necessary to attack his own ministerial colleagues, to attack his own Party and to attack many of the trade union leaders of Australia. In doing so he also attacked the member of his Government who represents the Launceston area, Mr Barnard, who, through a spokesman for his office on 9 September last, said: 'Steps have already been taken to reimpose higher tariffs'. This leads me to ask: Is Mr Barnard one of the Ministers who the Prime Minister says 'accept and peddle lies'? No one coming from Launceston would dispute the seriousness of the retrenchments in the textile industry and other industries in that area. The Prime Minister was grievously wrong in stating: 'There have been allegations that textile companies in Launceston have put off 900 people. The Department made an investigation. There were 360 laid off. ' That is what the Prime Minister said last night. Regrettably, he was so very wrong.

Since 1 May of this year tariff cut induced retrenchments have been almost continuous. One textile company alone, that is Coates Patons (Aust.) Ltd, has retrenched 55 1 employees up to today. The figures were checked by me today and they show that from 1 May when there were 1,642 employees the company is now down to 1,091 employees, a reduction caused solely as a result of the Government's tariff policies and its cutting the quotas. There has been a reduction of 551 employees.

Another Launceston textile company which, Mr President, would be well known to youThyne Bros Pty Ltd- has virtually closed. It had approximately 100 employees. A few only are retained there pending the sale of the premises. Another company in Launceston in the textile industry and a large employer, Kelsall & Kemp (Tas.) Ltd, has retrenched a large number of employees. It has tried to defer greater retrenchment by sending staff on leave. I was not able to check out Kelsall and Kemp today but the approximate number is 115. By now it may be greater. The Textile Workers Union in Launceston says that the figure for retrenchments is over 900 in Launceston alone. That statement was made before a further 100 employees were retrenched last Friday. So that one can take the Textile Workers Union statement as being that in Launceston about 1,000 textile workers have been retrenched as a result of the Government's policies.

Yet Mr Whitlam in making his wild accusations clearly called Mr Holden, the secretary of the Textile Workers Union in Tasmania, a liar. Presumably he is one of those who comes within Mr Whitlam 's broad accusation of union leaders who are, using Mr Whitlam 's words, in collusion with multi-national companies. Mr Holden would certainly be entitled to join with all others who are involved in attempting to get government action on Tasmania's problems in condemning the Prime Minister for his ignorance, arrogance and lack of sympathy. It is disturbing to know that this Government has made decisions which have been based on a false understanding, if one accepts the Prime Minister's own words. Last night the Prime Minister referred to claims about unemployment in the textile industry in Launceston. He then went on to state:

.   . I hope I don't react too bitterly when I say that that sort of fallacious allegation destroys some of the cases that are put to us.

The Prime Minister had just referred to the allegation that there are some 900 unemployed in Launceston as a result of retrenchments in the textile industry. It is a fact beyond dispute that about 1,000 former employees of textile companies in Launceston have been put out of work as a result of tariff policy induced retrenchments. If the Government has made decisions which are based upon a false belief that there are only 360 employees retrenched, obviously those decisions have been fallaciously reached. Those decisions are certainly most unfortunate in their impact upon that area of Tasmania.

To give some idea of the seriousness of the situation I shall cite some information which was given to me last Friday by the employment officer in Launceston. On Friday the actual number of unemployed was 1,300, and was rising quite rapidly. That figure did not include 100 people who were put off that day by Coates Patons and a further twenty who were retrenched from Repco Auto Parts (Tasmania) Pty Ltd. I understand that other retrenchments also took place that day. This is all the result of either the tariff policies or the Government's general economic policies which are creating such havoc in this country. It appears therefore that there is a lack of understanding on the part of the Government and certainly on the part of the Prime Minister as to what in fact is happening. I trust that those members of the Australian Labor Party who come from Tasmania and who have its interests at heart will ensure that the Prime Minister is kept properly informed of the true situation.

I trust that Senator Grimes, if he has not yet done so, will take the first opportunity to inform the Prime Minister unless, of course, he does not agree that I have correctly outlined the serious situation in Launceston. I presume that in that event he will speak, and let us know what his views are. Otherwise I will take it that he does agree. Mr President, I just ask: Is it that Mr Barnard and Mr Duthie, 2 honourable members in the House of Representatives who represent that area, have not adequately put the facts to the Government and to the Prime Minister or is it that the Prime Minister just does not believe them? On the face of it it must be one or other of those 2 things. In either event, it is clear that this squabbling, arrogant, heartless government has no understanding of what its policies are doing to the people of Launceston. I protest as strongly as I can at actions which are based upon a misunderstanding and at false accusations which are made about the leaders of the textile industry, both on the company side and on the trade union side. These false accusations have been made with gay abandon by the Prime Minister who holds the highest office in the land. If ever a man deserved censure for his irresponsibility which arises out of those statements it is the Prime Minister.

Senator Cavanagh - Mr President,I rise on a point of order. This is repetition. We have been told that the Prime Minister is ignorant and arrogant and that he is the first leader of the land. I draw your attention to standing order 4 1 8 which states:

No senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any member of such House, or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly.

What I am saying is that Senator Rae's remarks come squarely under standing order 418.

Senator Greenwood - What was offensive about what Senator Rae said?

Senator Cavanagh - That the Prime Minister is ignorant and arrogant.

Senator Jessop - That is quite true.

Senator Cavanagh - It is still an imputation, a personal reflection on the Leader of the Government. It offends against standing order 418. Senator Rae is highly disorderly in carrying on in this direction.

Senator Webster - He is not.

Senator Cavanagh - The great Q.C. says that he is not. Mr President, I am asking you to interpret the Standing Orders. It was with the knowledge that such characters as Senator Rae and Senator Webster would come into this building that the Senate Standing Orders Committee saw the necessity to put in that standing order. We do not know where we will end if we let these slanderous statements go on under the priviliege of Parliament against the leaders of our Government.

Senator Marriott - Mr President,I rise to speak to the point of order. I know that you, Sir, in your wisdom and knowledge of Standing Orders and the traditions of this House will not and cannot abide by the rule of tit for tat. But I do say that what has been said by Senator Rae is, in my belief, not a breach of Standing Orders in relation to the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam. Those senators who have read Press releases of his speeches or have had time listen to him speaking in the other place know that in referring to the Senate he uses the most insulting terms, particularly in relation to members of the Opposition. The things that are on the record that this man, Mr Whitlam, has said against the Senate and honourable senators are much more bitter, much more harmful, much more insulting and much more degrading than anything that has been said in the Senate today. Mr President, on those scores I believe that you should say that the Prime Minister has earned the criticism he has received from Senator Rae this evening.

The PRESIDENT -Senator Cavanagh has taken exception to the turn of phrase used by Senator Rae. It has been a very desirable practice in the past that when an honourable member has drawn attention to words that have been objectionable those words have been withdrawn. The Standing Orders provide for this to be done. As it is Senator Rae's birthday, perhaps he could withdraw the undesirable words and allow a bit of peace and tranquillity to prevail in the Senate. I ask Senator Rae whether he would make the appropriate response.

Senator RAE - Mr President,in the spirit in which you ask me to approach the matter, that is, the spirit of celebrating what I regard as an important event in my life- my birthday- I simply indicate that exception was taken long after I had used some words about the Prime Minister. I used them also about the Government. I withdraw what I said insofar as I made any unfair imputation about the Prime Minister and I ask to be allowed to proceed with the other points which I wish to make. I wish to quote some of the words of the Prime Minister and I presume people may judge for themselves whether they are insulting or offensive.

I quote from the transcript of the tape recording taken of the Prime Minister's speech last night at the meeting of the Heavy Engineering

Manufacturers Association. I will read the relevant parts of the transcript which I believe do not omit anything which would change the sense of what was said. The Prime Minister said:

But I do get a bit irked, not with your membership, not with this association, but with some others that spread panic. 1 suppose I might as well cite the textile industry.

He then gave an example to which I do not wish to refer and he went on to state:

.   . and recently, I haven't read the report in detail, but I had a glance at it today, Clyde Cameron showed it to me, there 've been allegations that textile companies have had to put off 900 people in Launceston. The department made an investigation. There were 360 laid off.

Gentlemen, I hope I don't react too bitterly when I say that that sort of fallacious allegation destroys some of the cases that are put to us.

He then went on to give an instance related to the motor car industry and continued:

The general point I want to make is that if you're going to influence me, I must confess that I have colleagues that are more easily influenced, but if you're going to influence me at least stick to the facts. I'm a bit jack of people that blackguard us with lies and have nothing but contempt for those that accept and peddle lies and my own colleagues are, in many cases, among them. And one of the most remarkable developments is that in this field how much collusion there is between multi-national companies and Australian trade union officials.

That is the end of the quote.

Senator Poyser - If I had known that he was going to say that I would not have come into the Senate.

Senator RAE - I note Senator Georges' interjection. I can well understand both his disappointment with the Prime Minister and, in fact -

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Rae, you said 'Senator Georges '.

Senator RAE - I am sorry. I meant Senator Poyser. I certainly do not want to start anything that goes further than making a response to what Senator Poyser said.

Senator Poyser - I do not even look like him.

Senator RAE - There are some differences. I simply draw attention to the fact that those are the words of the Prime Minister. They are there for anyone to read and to determine how they should be categorised. In my submission, they were quite clearly wrong and unfounded statements. The facts are clear. The seriousness of the retrenchments in Launceston has reached a stage at which urgent Government action is required. The position goes far beyond the statements by the Prime Minister that really no action is necessary. That was the meaning of what he said last night. Such a statement must be irksome to those who have tried hard to get action taken by this

Government to overcome the disastrous effects of the policies in which the Government has engaged.

I take this opportunity to draw attention to only one other matter. No doubt the Minister will take it up again in due course. It is one of the practical problems arising from retrenchments and the retraining program. A large number of the textile industry employees were members of their companies' medical benefits schemes. Whilst they were with the companies they obtained medical coverage and benefits. But since they have been retrenched, they do not have that coverage any longer. Although they may be paid the average wage they have received for the previous 6 months and be entitled to that for a 6-month adjustment period, they do not receive anything in relation to medical benefits. I do not think that many of them realise that they are not covered or that they have to take out cover at extra expense to themselves. This is a matter which has not been covered by the Government and I invite the Government's attention to it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Suggest corrections