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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1320

Senator DEVLIN —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations been drawn to recent criticism of the prices and incomes accord between the Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions? Is the Minister satisfied that, with the implementation of the provisions of the accord under this Government, Australia's employment picture is improving and will continue to improve?

Senator WALSH —I am aware of criticism of the accord, almost all of which comes from members of the Opposition, who have a very confused policy on this question. At different times they argue for propositions which are not only conflicting but even mutually exclusive. For example, the Opposition has argued that there should be both decentralised wage fixing and a wages freeze. Of course in a decentralised system there can be no effective way of enforcing a wages freeze or wage discounting, which is what the Opposition has recently argued for. About a month ago the Opposition spokesman on employment and industrial relations advocated a deregulated labour market. About two weeks ago he advocated a modified regulated labour market and the last I heard, about a week ago, he again advocated a completely deregulated labour market. In this matter it is very difficult to determine what is Mr Brown's true preference.

It is extraordinary that the Opposition should take that attitude because the runs are on the board, as a former Liberal Party Prime Minister used to say. The accord has delivered almost half a million new jobs and two years of real economic growth approaching 5 per cent. We are approaching a third year of real economic growth at about that level. The inflation rate has been almost halved. Half a million new jobs have been created, as I said earlier. We have had the lowest level of industrial disputes in the last 18 years and the lowest level of unit wage cost since the 1960s. Because of the agreement reached last month, negotiated with great skill by Mr Willis and Mr Keating with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, we have a guarantee that the accord will be cemented in place for at least another two years. I find it almost incomprehensible that, given that record of the accord, members of the Opposition, let alone the Opposition leadership, could seriously advocate that the policy which is the foundation stone for that record of achievement should be abandoned and, indeed, that the Leader of the Opposition gleefully anticipates as a replacement for the accord and all its achievements five years of industrial warfare. Not even Mr Fraser at his worst would have advocated that.