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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1445

Mr MILLAR(8.59) —I take this opportunity to speak to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1984-85 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1984-85 tonight because they are concerned with the provision of funds to meet the Government's objectives within the parameters of its policy. It is fair to comment that, in common with governments that have preceded it, this Government is seemingly losing ground, and somehow or other in this country of ours notwithstanding the laudability of objectives, we seem to be getting further and further behind the eight ball.

The Bills provide latitude to speak on other matters, which is not always the case, and it would not have escaped the notice of members of the House that during this debate there have been many submissions on the, if you like, Queensland versus the rest of Australia situation presently prevailing. Many of the comments have been highly pertinent and quite objective, in contrast, I must say, to some others. But most of the comments, I think it would be fair to say, address the problem in the immediate sense. I suggest that probably the problem is much more deep-seated. Why do we in this blessed country, where we should have the world at our feet, find ourselves increasingly in greater and greater difficulties?

Mr Leo McLeay —It is because of Joh.

Mr MILLAR —I will give thought to that proposition and give a response to the honourable member at a later date. The problem does exist and it seems to defy the best intentions and the strongest will of all honourable members and all parties in this House. The situation in Queensland is lamentable. It cannot be described in any other way.

How has it come about that we have now a contest between organised labour and, notwithstanding remarks made by honourable members on my left, a democratically elected government answerable to people who retain the capacity to dispatch that government if they believe in due course that the actions in which it has engaged leave something to be desired? It is true that 100 or so years ago the worker, loosely described, was so shockingly treated that unionism was more than urgently required. Lest I should seem to be condemnatory of those who preceded us, let me say that they were probably treated in that way simply because it was the fashion of the day, not necessarily with malevolence but with a lack of thought and consideration. So unionism took its roots. It flourished and established conditions for the workers which their predecessors never would have dreamed of. The reality of it is, as in all things, that the pendulum has swung to a stage now where the union movement possesses strength and influence which give it a disproportionate power in our democratic society.

I would venture to say that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), notwithstanding the fact that many of the problems confronting him now have sprung from the seeds he planted when he was a prominent figure in the union movement, is a person of sufficient pragmatism to realise the nature and enormity of the problems that stand between him as Prime Minister and achieving the result he would seek to achieve for this country. I think that left to himself he would probably be able to deal effectively with these problems because they are not problems peculiar to any individual or group; they are our problems as Australians. Presently, as demonstrated by his remarks today, he is confined in his ambitions. Hopefully there will be a change in that respect.

As I have said, the pendulum has swung to the extent that the unions now dictate to government. Society has gone along with that. The historical circumstance from the beginning of time has been that a society, a nation, an empire is never more at risk than when it enjoys unprecedented security, comfort and over-indulgence, as we have enjoyed in this country post-World War II. There are generations abroad increasingly in influential positions who have lost touch with the reality that some of us in this House now, sadly, still remember-the reality of bread and beef dripping for a meal and if one had visitors perhaps one could spare some tomato sauce. It could be argued as hardship. Today, because of the conditioning we had from the bounty post-World War II, it may be argued, going to the extreme for the sake of clarity, that hardship rests in an inability to get a boat or a car in the double garage under a two storey brick home.

It is all relative, and the society now determining our future has innocently fallen victim to circumstances wherein it has confused expectation with entitlement. We have attained expectation in general terms; we now confuse it with entitlement. Unless our society awakens to the reality of that assertion we will just stumble on as we have been stumbling and there will be no solutions to our predicament within the parameters of conventionality because Australia is no longer in a conventional situation. Our society, our electorates, must have confidence in the quality of government, a conviction that government will act in accordance with its understanding and knowledge of the problems and aspirations of our society. Any government is incapable of doing that if it is hamstrung by the undue influence of outside bodies.

What I am saying, in effect, is that one may question the style of the Queensland Premier and question the nature of his legislation, but he has moved in response to the demand of the Queensland electorate-I say that quite sincerely-to break the nexus that exists. He has been prepared to assume the odium and the possible consequences but he has moved to break that nexus. One could say-this might shock my colleagues on my left-that if Joh, as he is commonly known, loses this battle so will the worker because when we look into it deeply we see that there is a mutuality of benefit. The best job conditions on earth are not worth a crumpet if the employer is put out of business. We have been doing this in Australia. Because we have enjoyed the good times, we thought that we could enjoy the extravagance of engaging in this irresponsible action. There is a mutuality of benefit in Australians responsibly exploiting the extraordinary resources of this country to share jointly the benefit that would attach thereto. We have deluded ourselves into believing that we could keep drawing from the bank while not depositing sufficiently to match our withdrawals.

It is no coincidence that our dollar now stands at 63c against the US dollar. I digress to applaud the Government for its action in devaluing the dollar. It has provided an opportunity for the world to demonstrate clearly its assessment of Australia. It gives us a signal that we should not fall into the trap of failing to take advantage of the benefits that will accrue from our exports, with the current exchange rates, as a previous government did in respect of import parity for oil prices. It blew through $3,000m for temporary expediency. We should not believe that we have a benefit in respect of exports because the cost of imports will put demands on wage increases and on costs which will compound the difficulties we are presently facing. While there is a benefit to the exporters, including the rural industry, the immediate effect is the prices of goods such as imported tractors will go through the roof. There is no win in this if we lose the opportunity to take advantage of this temporary reprieve in respect of our exports. After all, this country depends on its export earnings and we ignore that at our peril.

So the time is right for the Prime Minister, with his Government, to demonstrate that pragmatism for which he is noted or claimed to have. It is later than we think. The worker must recognise that he cannot be extravagant to the point of destroying his own job prospects. We have been doing that. We have the world at our feet if only we apply ourselves. If we study the story of man, of society, and project it into graph form, we will see a rise to greatness from adversity followed by a plateauing out when society becomes divorced from reality and then a plunge to adversity. It seems that the human creature is incapable of reducing the highs and the lows to within reasonable parameters. It seems that we have to learn the hard way.

It is no accident that after World War II the defeated nations became the paramount nations within a very short period. Certainly, they had substantial assistance from the victors, under the Marshall aid plan and sundry other plans, but the thing that got them up there was their urge to address the requirements of the time. They had to work to survive and the incidental consequence of that is that they prospered. Proof of that assertion is that, as time has passed by and they have lost touch with that harsh post-war reality, they too believe to some extent that they can engage in the extravagances to which I have referred. As a consequence, there are cracks appearing in their edifice. It is a continuing story of man and his endeavours.

I cannot account for any machinations behind the scenes on the part of the Queensland Government, if there were any. But, being somewhat, though not mischievously, condemnatory of the human species, one could not disallow the possibility that that event may have been welcomed. I do not know. I have been trying to be fair and reasonable in the matter. But whether or not that is so, the fact remains that the Industrial Commission ordered the Electrical Trades Union workers back to work. That was the catalyst. The Commission ordered them back to work and the ETU defied the Commission. Its members said: 'We will not go back to work'. The Premier of Queensland, on behalf of the Queensland Government and the people of Queensland, gave them an ultimatum. He said: 'You will go back to work by tomorrow morning or you are dismissed'. Some may argue that that was a little pre-emptory that he did not give them time to consider the situation. That is an argument that I will accept. It is a matter of judgment. But clearly, they had the ultimatum and they declined to go back to work.

The Government, as an employer, set about making alternative arrangements. It brought the contractors in. Many of the ETU members immediately argued about the ability and the competence of the contractors to perform the work. It is rather a sad reflection on the whole spirit of the union movement which, in the case of the ETU in Queensland, had been successful in achieving a nine-day fortnight because of the workload. The members of that union argued a very persuasive case. What did they do with their spare time? They did private contract work. Naturally, they would not have declared the income and they would not have paid tax on it. They took work away from others in defiance of the case they argued before the Commission for a reduction in working hours. I ask honourable members to note the sheer inconsistency of it. They defied an order of the Commission. That precipitated the crisis that now confronts us.

There is no future for us if we continue this confrontation. I know that the Prime Minister has said that we should talk about it. To what end? The whole history of this matter is that he has been talking about it and yielding-let us not delude ourselves-to the demands of the powerful unions or the Caesars of the powerful unions, if you like, because the ordinary worker remains gloriously uninformed as to what it is all about. When workers were being exhorted to go on strike or to engage in some other action, it would be a happy arrangement to have an independent spokesman at an appropriate assembly. Without necessarily arguing with the pro- position, he could say: 'These are other consequential matters that should be considered before you make a decision'. But it is remarkably easy to persuade people to a point of view if that point of view remains uncontested.

These people willy-nilly follow their Caesars. In the very scheme of things because of human nature, the Caesars battle for power. Those who follow live or die as a consequence of the quality of the decisions they make. We see that in this place, as well we know. We see men of laudable ambition battling for the treasury bench. Invariably it does not matter who wins the battle; the nation progressively loses the war. Australia is involved in a war for survival, it is as serious as that. People should not be blase about the fact that last year we paid $5,600m interest on our national debt-interest, mark you, not redemption-and it will get worse. Despite the efforts of parliamentarians it will get worse. What a legacy to leave our children.

Some would say, perhaps puckishly: 'Let us generate inflation and we will pay back with paper money.' That is an intolerable proposition, even though in the past it has been a circumstantial event. But it is totally immoral and totally indefensible. So that is the sum of what is happening in Queensland. If we view it all in the immediate context, we come to the point of view that it is a struggle between the legitimate entitlements of the respective groups. But ultimately they are talking about our future, the future of the employer and the future of the worker.

I resile from any suggestion that we have a laissez-faire arrangement in the work force with employers and employees. None of us would delude ourselves into believing for one moment that some employers are not as capable of rapacity and viciousness as some of our Caesars in the work force. We all carry the burden of being human beings. There has to be some measure of control. There is room for a difference of opinion as to who is right. But nobody is in the right if, in the ultimate, our country goes down the drain. The indicators threaten us with that circumstance. The Australian dollar is worth 63c compared with the United States dollar. The world virtually holds us in contempt. That is a very serious threat. We have to do something about it and we have to do it now.

If this Government feels that it must come to the defence of union members to defeat what is happening in Queensland-this is not just the ambition of the Queensland Premier-at the demand of Queenslanders, we will all lose. I think the happiest result would be to talk but we should talk on the premise that that traditional practice of engaging in dialogue just to create a forum for the union point of view to prevail can no longer occur because the worker will certainly lose his prospects of attaining that to which he reasonably aspires. It is a very serious problem. I just exhort honourable members to consider it deeply-

Mr Hodgman —We have made a mess of it.

Mr MILLAR —To be fair, we have made a mess of it. We have all made a mess of it because we have innocently fallen victims to the prosperity we have enjoyed. We have lived extravagantly like the profligate son. We have engaged in some very substantial reforms. Some have been circumstantial and some have been encouraged. We have 570,000 unemployed, yet this tends to be ignored by the unions themselves. I have a union spokesman in my electorate with whom I am on cordial terms. At one meeting where it was suggested that we may be able to give some young unemployed part time work at a concessional rate to give them job familiarity and to give them a sense of purpose, this union representative objected most strongly. When challenged on his attitude as a representative of the workers he said unequivocally: 'It is my responsibility, as a union representative, to look after the employed, not the unemployed'. I was shocked. What an extraordinary attitude! Our well-being rests in a common appreciation of what we have, how best it can be engaged, and how best it can be divided.

I have diverted from the debate on the Bills before the House. I was talking about some of the social reforms concerning the 570,000 unemployed. There is no qualm or conscience among multi-income families where husbands and wives are working. There is no sexist overtone to that comment. People are not troubled by the fact that in Canberra there are incomes of $40,000 or $50,000 a year going to sustain two people. There is no thought for the worker. They are jobs. There are only so many jobs in this country. We have elected as a society, quite indifferent to the hardships that may result to others, to pursue our ambitions without a thought. It is really time that we took stock of what is happening in this nation, not on a divisional basis but in an appreciation of the fact that, whoever is in government in the end, if there is not a country to govern their labours will be totally wasted.