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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2550

Mr WILLIS (Gellibrand) -The Opposition welcomes the decision by the Government to adopt the Fraser Island report. It is certainly a great victory for all concerned with the protection of the environment. I should note also that it is a vindication of the decision of the Labor Government to establish the inquiry in the first place. The Opposition therefore takes special satisfaction from the adoption of the report. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of this report to which I wish to address myself. It must be admitted that there are costs involved in this decision. In my opinion, the costs are worth paying. Nevertheless, we should look briefly at them.

It seems to me that there are 2 sets of costs. Firstly, there is a loss of national income and exports by foregoing the mining activities. This has an effect on our gross domestic product and balance of payments. Secondly, there are costs relating to the economic effect on the persons in the Maryborough-Hervey Bay area. The first set of costs will be borne by the nation as a whole, and this is appropriate as we are seeking to preserve a unique aspect of our natural environment for all Australians. The Opposition is concerned that the second element of sacrifice will be borne by the persons directly concerned and that the element of national sacrifice will not extend to them.

After listening to the statement made by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), I do not feel much satisfaction about the protection that is being offered to persons who are directly affected by the decision. The Commission of Inquiry made it clear in its report that it expected that the cessation of mining, as recommended by it, would have adverse economic and employment effects in the Maryborough-Hervey Bay district. It was not able to evaluate that effect as it depended on such intangibles as the likely increase in tourism that would flow from implementation of the report. Nevertheless, the Commission considered that assistance to the region would be required. The second recommendation contained in the report states:

Appropriate economic and other assistance be given to the extent that adverse regional economic effects follow the implementation of recommendation 1.

The first recommendation in the report was, of course, to cease mining activities. The Commission recommends in the body of its report that this assistance be provided by both State and Commonwealth governments. But if any really effective steps are to be taken these will almost certainly depend on the Commonwealth Government taking the initiative. This raises the very pertinent point as to what is the responsibility of governments to people who are adversely affected by actions taken by those governments in the national interest.

In the recent past the Labor Government accepted responsibility for actions it took in the national interests on such matters as reducing tariffs by providing structural adjustment assistance to employees who lost their jobs as a consequence of that government action. These employees were able to receive the average of their weekly earnings over the previous 6 months for a period up to 6 months if they could not obtain another job. If this kind of income maintenance can be made available to persons affected by one set of government decisions, it is surely only fair that other persons similarly affected by other government decisions should receive the same kind of assistance.

I am not sure at this stage just what is the state of the structural adjustment assistance program, as it operated under the Labor Government. It depended on a declaration by the government that persons affected by certain government decision were eligible for assistance. I am unaware of any such declarations being made by the

Fraser Government. Nevertheless, I suppose the income maintenance scheme which applied under the Labor Government still exists on the books. That scheme which applied when tariffs were cut could easily be applied in this instance and, in the opinion of the Opposition, should be applied. As I have said, this situation is similar in that a Government decision affects employment. There is no earthly reason why the scheme should not be applied in this case as it was applied in the case of persons affected by tariff cuts.

Instead, the Minister's statement offers income support to unemployed persons by way of unemployment benefit and other related benefits, whatever that means. The offer of the unemployment benefit is not really one designed to fill a potential recipient with great enthusiasm. It seems to me that the Government could have been rather more generous, to say the least, in looking after the persons who will be directly affected by loss of employment by extending to them the income maintenance scheme under the structural adjustment assistance program rather than offering them the unemployment benefit as though it were some great effort by the Government to assist them.

The other measures mentioned by the Minister are employment counselling, placement and related services available through the Commonwealth Employment Service. This is nothing particularly especial. It has been offered in some special way to the persons in this country who have been affected by the measures that the Government is introducing on the waterfront- to the employees of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. So far, although they were given notice in July, those persons still have not received any special assistance from the Commonwealth Employment Service. I am not blaming the officers of the CES. I suggest that it is more to do with governmental direction. The offer here of special help from the CES is not going to be a source of great joy when one considers the previous offer that was made to the officers of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. It has not meant anything to them yet.

The offer of training assistance under the National Employment and Training scheme certainly could be valuable to the people who need to be retrained. We will have to await the outcome of that to assess whether it is worthwhile. The relocation assistance for employment also may be worthwhile, but I do make the point that it is not going to help the Maryborough-Hervey Bay district to have everyone move away from the area. I am sure that the people who live in the area want to stay there and would much prefer to have jobs created in the area rather than be offered a payment for being relocated somewhere else. This brings me to the point that the Government should be looking not only at the measures which have been mentioned by the Minister, which in my opinion are very thin, but also at the possibility of creating jobs in the area. It is not good enough just to talk about relocation and training assistance. The Government should be also looking at the possibility of creating jobs in that area either through direct expenditure by the Commonwealth Government and its encouraging the Queensland Government to do the same thing or by making some special assistance available either to relocate industry in that area or to assist other industry which is already there. I understand that there is not a great deal of industry right now in the Maryborough-Hervey Bay district. Either of those measures would be extremely helpful to the people who are going to lose their jobs, but nothing of that kind had been offered.

In relation to the provision of assistance to industry, I recall that when the Australian Labor Party was in office there was the SANMA- the Special Assistance to Non-Metropolitan Areasscheme, which has died a natural death since we went out of office. It provided assistance to firms which were affected by structural adjustment. There is no reason why that sort of scheme could not be used to encourage firms to relocate in the Maryborough-Hervey Bay district or perhaps to assist a firm in that district which is struggling to provide more employment. But a much more imaginative approach than is outlined on the third page of the Minister's prepared statement is needed. If the Government is really concerned about looking after the people of the Maryborough-Hervey Bay district it can do a lot more. They can be given a lot more by way of income maintenance. They should be given a much better deal in terms of job creation. Having said that, I reiterate the point that the Opposition welcomes wholeheartedly the decision by the Government to adopt the Fraser Island report. The Opposition reservations are in respect of the miserly attitude that has been adopted towards those who are affected by the decision.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.

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