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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 3990

Mr PETER FISHER(1.50) —For many months now the National Party of Australia has been endeavouring to get this Government to come to grips with some of the serious economic problems facing Australia, particularly in the exporting areas, the farming and mining areas, and the small business sector of Australia, yet it is not until the last day of the Parliament that we are given our first real opportunity to have something to say about the industrial problems that have so hampered our balance of payments situation.

We know that the fundamentals of this country are in a very bad way. We know that they are characterised by a huge and rapidly rising overseas debt, in excess of $100 billion-the third or fourth largest debt in the world. It is largely a consequence, I believe, of irresponsible corporate and public sector borrowing. We know that we have severe accumulated balance of payments problems resulting from years of importing too much, borrowing too much and not earning enough to make ends meet in a very unforgiving international market-place. We know that the costs of producing goods and services are extremely high, with crazy on-costs such as penalty rates, holiday loadings and workers compensation claims that at this point in time have become parasitic. Of course these things affect our exports very dramatically, as of course they also affect another major and growing industry in this country, the tourism industry. We know that record high interest rates are crippling our farms, our businesses, our mines, our whole productive sector and are forcing increasing numbers of families to abandon their homes and their land.

I just point out to this House that one of the worst situations in Australia's rural community is evident in my own electorate of Mallee, where families are simply having to shut the gate and walk off their properties. Of course our inflation rate is now some 400 times higher than that of the world's respected economies. In summary, we are a nation that is far too deeply in debt. We are rapidly losing our creditworthiness. We are demanding far too much and not giving enough in return to justify our high expectations.

So what is the industrial relations record of this Government? This motion moved by my colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) refers particularly to the coal mining industry. The honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis) invites us all to go to South Africa, to look at the conditions in the South African mines. We are not talking about conditions; we believe conditions in Australia are relatively adequate for the mining workers, as they are for most other people in this country. We are not talking about conditions, but about the need for people to get on and do a bit of work.

Mr Braithwaite —Productivity.

Mr PETER FISHER —Productivity is what we are talking about. I refer to a report in today's Australian, headed `Coal miners fear imminent loss of 3000 jobs, 15 Mines', which states:

The Miners Federation yesterday warned that 3000 jobs might soon be lost and more than 15 coal mines faced closure in NSW and Queensland.

The Secretary of the federation, Mr Barry Swan, said in Sydney that the coal industry was in grave trouble and action was needed now to address its problems.

We believe that something like 3,000 jobs are going in the very near future-and I am talking about in 12 months time. Mr Swan said:

This union also has very grave concerns that in excess of 15 mines in NSW and Queensland will close.

Yet the honourable member for Throsby tells us everything is all right. He tells us there have not been any major disputes in the coal industry. Let me just for a moment outline to the House some of the unions' record of not honouring their promises and their agreements. There have been 180 disputes in the coal industry since June 1986 and early February 1987, despite firm undertakings that there would not be any. The cost of these disputes which have ended in strike action has been estimated at 2.6 million tonnes of production, or approximately $130m in export earnings. That is why so many people in our community refer to the innate industrial rape of this country's economy. All of this is left unchallenged by the Government, as we have heard Government members say. One therefore has to ask whether this is just pure bloody-mindedness or economic vandalism, or is it in fact a long range plan for the nationalisation of the coal industry. Let me just for a moment look at the wheat industry.

Mr Hollis —Oh!

Mr PETER FISHER —The honourable member says it is not true. We all know what happened in New South Wales last year-the wheat handling authorities were held up to ransom by 16 people who were earning in excess of $60,000 a year. They held up the export of our wheat from the New South Wales handling terminals at a cost of some $270m to the wheat industry.

Do honourable members opposite agree with that? It is no wonder that our balance of payments situation is as bad as it is. The coal industry is suffering, the wheat industry is suffering, miners are losing their jobs, mines are closing and farmers are walking off the land. What is their answer to it? They introduced the Industrial Relations Bill as a result of the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems. Of course we knew what the Hancock inquiry would come out with before its report was even presented to this place. No doubt it was greeted by the Public Service with an unusual amount of excitement, because it solved, of course, a serious problem for the bureaucracy. It provided a means by which people would be assured of jobs, of promotions, in the days and weeks ahead. So we got the Industrial Relations Bill. Let us be under no illusion as to what the Industrial Relations Bill was all about. We know that the Labor Government, under the Willis industrial relations club, is committed to the destruction of all that we have achieved in hundreds of years of British history in this country. If ordinary Australians and businesses are denied access to common law and injunctions against uncivilised behaviour, there will be nothing to stop union bosses taking over this country. The National Party opposed the Industrial Relations Bill; the Government delayed consideration of the Bill, and I believe that it did so not because it wanted to involve itself in further consultation but simply because it was frightened about the effects the Industrial Relations Bill would have on its election results in a few weeks time. That is why the Bill was delayed, and make no mistake about it, if this Government gets back into power on 11 July, which fortunately it will not, the industrial relations legislation would be introduced immediately and this country would have to suffer the same sorts of problems, the same sorts of difficulties, the same sort of loss to export markets, as we have had to face over the last four years.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! It is now almost 2 p.m. In accordance with standing order 104, as amended for this session, the time allotted for precedence of General Business has expired. The honourable member for Mallee will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.

Mr Spender —I would not hold my breath.

Madam SPEAKER —I would not hold my breath, either.