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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 1042


Mr MILTON(10.57) —In speaking to the estimates of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, I want to deal particularly with the problem of youth unemployment. It is a serious problem which the previous Liberal-National Party Government allowed to deteriorate to the present high level. The Hawke Labor Government has managed to reduce the general unemployment level, with 230,000 Australians finding jobs, compared with the 240,000 lost jobs in the previous year. The hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) in blaming the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) for the continued high level of youth unemployment is beyond measure. The Minister has initiated and improved policies for the young unemployed, as the present estimates indicate.

I do not have much time tonight so I wish to take up the ideas on youth unemployment of the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr John Stone, which he expressed in the recent Shann Memorial Lecture, views which have been enthusiastically endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition. I believe it is most important to explode any idea that the views of Mr John Stone should have any credibility as far as this chamber is concerned. His views represent the most conservative aspect of financial management, enshrining the monetarist gospel that free market forces should reign unfettered by government restraint. It is a view which has long been espoused by the ex-Treasurer, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), whose constant carping about the price of labour in the form of unreasonable wage and salary demands being the prime cause of unemployment and inflation I have challenged on a number of occasions in this chamber.

The price of labour is only one element in the cost of production. Profits and interest, the price of raw materials, entrepreneurial costs and land prices are also important elements which Mr Stone chose to ignore. Instead he chose to attack our wage determination system and suggested that the maintenance of real wages was the cause of unemployment. He also suggested that minimum award rates should not apply to young people, claiming that, if lower wages could be paid to the young employed, they would get jobs. He also attacked, amongst other bodies, the Amalgamated Metals Foundry and Shipwrights Union, one of the most responsible and imaginative representatives of organised labour in this country.

I find it intriguing that in the whole of John Stone's lecture he made no mention of the influence of transnational corporations on the economies of all nations, even those of the communist bloc. In this respect, it is worth quoting from the introduction to the fifth volume of essays in the book Political Economy of Australian Capitalism, edited by E. L. Wheelright and Ken Buckley, which states:

The central conclusion which emerges is that a few hundred transnational corporations have internationalised the means of production, distribution and exchange to such an extent that the centralisation of economic power in the world has outstripped that of political power. International capitalism is therefore virtually out of control by any national government and there is no international government. Within this framework many smaller nation states, including Australia, have become client states of international capital, their economies and societies becoming not much more than appendages, or satellites of the great nodes of capital which dominate the world economy.

John Stone's lecture was full of invective, which I tried to avoid in my comments. In my criticisms of his comments, I have to say that his failure to make any reference to the important growth of the power and influence of giant transnational corporations since the 1930s displays a high degree of intellectual sloth, particularly as that growth has a great deal to do with youth unemployment in this country.

It would seem that neither he nor the Leader of the Opposition has any understanding of how the large business corporations of the world are able to maximise the profits of their high technology production methods by exploiting the cheap labour pool of Third World countries. Countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan all have their free trade zones which are used by transnational corporations for their semi- automated factories. In these free trade or industrial zones there are no unions and no safety regulations. In addition, there are minimum restrictions on hours and very low wage rates. So there is nothing to impede production. This ensures that the young, easily replaceable and compliant wage force is paid a mere pittance for long hours of work on the production lines.

Does Mr Stone wish us to lower our wage rates and deregulate our industries in order to compete with these countries? Does he want our young people to become wage slaves to a grinding industrial machine to compete with adult workers until all our wage and salary levels are brought down to the appallingly low level of the incomes of the working populations of Third World countries? It is important for us to understand that these views of Mr John Stone are irrelevant to employment for young people in this country. I commend the Estimates to the House.