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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1756

Senator COONEY(4.32) —The whole thrust of the argument put by the Opposition today is that a scapegoat ought to be found within the Australian community, and that scapegoat seemed to be the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The call is a call to arms. Whereas this Government so far has gone forward with unity not only with the ACTU but with the whole Australian community, the call from the Opposition is that that should end, that the battle lines should be drawn and that the trade union movement should be made the scapegoat for the problems from which the Opposition perceives Australia is suffering. What could be a greater recipe for disaster than that? But that point has been put forward as a matter of public importance today. The Opposition thinks it is a matter of importance that the approach taken to the trade union movement through the ACTU should change. That is the whole purport of this discussion. The Opposition thinks that the approach should go from one where there is an attempt at co-operation, which is generally successful, to one where, it is declared, this Government should go to war, and if it does not go to war the Opposition will do so when it comes to office, whenever that may be.

In my view, and I should think in the view of most listeners, that is a recipe for disaster and for the sorts of things that we experienced at the start of the 1980s under the old Government led by Mr Fraser. Senator Collard attacked the social wage. He said that that should be reduced. He said that the services provided by government to the Australian community should be reduced and that people should get less than they presently do. He said that this Government is a big spender and that expenditure on social wages is soaring.

Senator Collard —You would not deny that, would you?

Senator COONEY —Only in this way: We can look at the big government league table, which I have. I note that general government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product in Australia is 36 per cent. Those countries which spend more of the gross domestic product on government spending include the United States of America, Canada, Britain, Norway, West Germany, France, Ireland and Sweden, which spends 67 per cent. It tends to become a little worrying when people come into this chamber and purport to influence the Australian people by creating the impression, which is false, that this is a big spending government compared with those in the rest of the world. The simple fact is that is it not. Even Japan spends 34 per cent, which is only 2 per cent less than Australia spends.

Nevertheless, that is too much for the Opposition. It cannot see that the services provided to this community are desperately needed. The Opposition has said that we should not spend on health, education and all those things which we, as a civilised people, have come to expect should be provided for us. Not only should they be provided for us but also they are essential in order for the sort of society in which we live to continue. Yet Senator Collard said that that spending should be cut down. He said too that the rest of the world is doing fine. In the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 October 1985 there was an article on an all-party committee report from the House of Lords about England, which Senator Collard said is doing fine; it is part of the rest of the world which is doing fine. The article stated:

In a doom-laden but authoritative report on Britain's economic future, the committee-which includes three former ministers and eminent figures of industry and finance-concluded that the country's trading surplus in oil, which has so far disguised the underlying deterioration of the UK's balance of payments, will reach its peak this year, and will have virtually disappeared by 1990.

From then on, the committee foresees:

A contraction of manufacturing industry, to the point where the successful continuation of most manufacturing is put at risk.

An irreplaceable loss of gross domestic production.

An adverse balance of payments of such proportions that severely deflationary measures will be needed.

Lower tax revenue for public spending on welfare, defence and other commitments.

Higher unemployment, with little prospect of reducing it.

The economy stagnating and inflation rising, driven up by a falling exchange rate.

The article called for a change in the policy of the Thatcher Government, the very policy that the Opposition says it will bring in when it comes to government. So, if we follow Britain, which is what the Opposition purports we ought to do-it is described as doing fine-we will have disaster. We will have the same sort of thing as this all-party committee from the House of Lords, including three past Ministers, said is a disaster. Do we want to go from a situation where we as a community-the ACTU being an important part of that community as well as the business section, the manufacturing section and all those other sections-go ahead in some sort of peace together and follow the recipe put forward today which will lead us to disaster because of the conflict that will be caused and because of the sorts of things that have happened in England? That is the sort of thing that is being put forward by the Opposition today.

The Opposition has said again that the workers of this society should tighten their belts. One can well imagine the picture that is presented by that. Imagine the people who depend upon a wage tightening their belts as they look through the window of a restaurant-a cafe would not be grand enough-at people spending $250 or $300 on lunches which the Opposition says should be tax deductible. This Government is being criticised again for allowing a 3.8 per cent wage increase. The newspapers are talking about what the effect of that will be. They start with the people who earn $150 a week. That is $150 a week less than the amount of money that the Opposition says ought to be allowable as tax deductions for lunch. After tax, people on $150 a week will get an increase of $4.40. But the Opposition says: `No, the ACTU is wrong in pursuing $4.40 to be added to $150 a week for these people'. The fact of the matter is that it is very hard to live on $150 or $200 a week. It is very hard to live on $250 a week, which is the amount which, according to the Opposition, people should be allowed to deduct for a free lunch from the taxation they would otherwise pay.

That is what the Opposition has been saying today. It says that the accord is wrong. It ignores the fact that as from September next year those most in need of help will be paying the lowest rate of tax of 24c in the dollar. However, under the Opposition's scheme they would have to pay tax of 30c in the dollar. That proposal does not worry the Opposition because it would not affect those people who go out after the free lunch. Those people will now pay less in tax and the Opposition is pleased about that. However, the Opposition cannot see any joy in the fact that the people in the lower part of the scale will have to pay only 24c. The Opposition says that they should pay 30c in the dollar so that free lunches can be made tax deductible.

Senator Messner —What a load of rubbish. What about trade promotion and job creation?

Senator COONEY —Of course it is a load of rubbish, and that is exactly what we are saying. We agree with the honourable senator entirely that it is a load of rubbish and we are very surprised that the Opposition should have put it forward. I am just quoting what the honourable senator has said. The honourable senator has called it a load of rubbish. I thank him for that. I would have thought that what he said is very unkind in respect of his colleagues who put this proposal forward. We on this side have understood it to be a load of rubbish. However, certainly the fact that the honourable senator has now joined with us and concluded that what his colleagues are saying is a load of rubbish endorses exactly what we are saying.

Senator Michael Baume says that in spite of the accord, Australia has recovered from the drought. He said that the world is in recovery. He gave the impression that everything in the world is joyful. This is hardly the impression created by what we read in the newspapers. As Senator Collard said, the value of the United States dollar is falling. In addition, I have cited what is happening in the British economy.

Senator Baume objected to the ACTU asking the Prices Surveillance Authority to do more than it is presently doing. I suppose that, in putting that forward, he objects to the Authority looking at the charges imposed by the Australian Telecommunications Commission and the Australian Postal Commission. The latest reports of the commissions reveal that this is what it has done. Why should not the Prices Surveillance Authority look at the charges imposed by Telecom Australia and Australia Post? Is the objection taken by the Opposition a preliminary to the privatisation of those bodies? Is the Opposition objecting to what the Authority is doing because if it gets the chance to privatise the telecommunications and postal systems it wants those bodies to be in a position to charge as much as they like? Is that what the Opposition's objection is all about?

Senator Baume quotes the Economic Planning Advisory Council as an authority. He says that the Government should take more notice of EPAC and should publish what it says. I point out to Senator Baume that the Australian Financial Review of Friday 18 October 1985 contains a statement about EPAC. The publication states:

EPAC backs Government on foreign debt.

If the honourable senator wants a quotation in respect of what EPAC has said, I draw his attention to the statement that I have just read which shows that EPAC endorses what this Government has done and its plans for the future.

Senator Baume asked the old question of who is running the country. I suppose one thing we can say is that it is very fortunate that the Opposition is not running the country at this stage. It is very fortunate that this Government-it has made a point of conferring with the various bodies that represent not only the workers but also the business community-is running the country. This Government, which refers to, talks to and listens to not only the ACTU but the Confederation of Australian Industry, the Business Council of Australia and all other business organisations is running the country. This Government runs the country on the basis of the advice it receives from and conferences it has with various bodies. It runs the country on the basis of a proper reference to these various bodies. The Opposition declared in this chamber today that far from conferring with these bodies, it will crush the ACTU, the representative of millions of workers in this community. It is fortunate that that situation has not eventuated. Let us hope that it never does eventuate while the Opposition has that attitude.

Senator Chaney quoted from today's edition of the Australian Financial Review. He said that the editorial says some nasty things about Mr Crean, Mr Kelty and the ACTU. But he did not quote all of the editorial. Why quote part of the editorial? He is fixed upon quoting something which he seems to think brings comfort, but why not quote the rest of the editorial? That editorial states:

But like the medieval concept of the `just price', no such simple tool is available.

That is, no such simple tool as wage flexibility on its own. The editorial continues:

However, overseas experience over the past decade shows two main things. The first is that wage flexibility is essential. The second is that such flexibility, while important, is not enough to guarantee smooth adjustment to external shocks.

I say that the ACTU and the centralised wage fixing system have served this country well. However, Senator Chaney takes the opposite view and says that they do not. He quoted from the Australian Financial Review to support that assertion. It is reasonable that he should do so. But why does he quote only part of the editorial? If he comes in here purporting to put forward a case, which I take it he is putting seriously, why does he not quote all of what was written?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.