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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2363

Senator ROBERT RAY(3.22) —One always knows when the Liberals are not doing well in the polls; they bring on a union bashing matter of public importance. Again we have it here today. What an unimpressive performance Senator Messner has put in today. I do not think that it is up to his normal reasonable standard. But it is true to say that Liberals hate trade unions. I have never met a Liberal who does not hate trade unions. If there is one thing that unites all the disparate factions of the Liberal Party of Australia, it is their hatred of trade unions. If they did not have trade unions to hate, they would have to invent them. It does not matter whether a Liberal is a member of the Uglies in New South Wales or the Wimps in Victoria; it does not matter what part of the Liberal Party he comes from; it is a first tenet that a Liberal hates trade unions. That sort of union bashing has led successive Liberal governments to introduce more and more repressive anti-union legislation, with disastrous consequences.

There has been no anti-union legislation in the history of the Hawke Government, and disputes are at a record low. If the Liberals want to know what path they are going down by following their policy, they have only to look at their brother government in Queensland to see where anti-union legislation leads. Its most recent legislation is not only anti-democratic; it breaks every civil liberty principle in the book. The road down which that is taking Queensland is the same road down which Louisiana went in the 1930s under Huey Long-some sort of know nothing popularism. Indeed, I often wonder who, when the leadership changes there, will inherit the deduct box in Queensland. Certainly it will not be deviants. They cannot even get a beer in Queensland at present. But that is the road that the Liberal Party will go down if it continues with its union bashing activities.

I believe that we have these sorts of motions put forward because the Liberals have no idea of what to do in the industrial relations area. It may be true that in one or two other areas they are developing some policies in some depth; maybe. I have not seen them yet, but I will be charitable. However, certainly in this crucial area they have absolutely no idea of what to do. First, half of them seem to think that there should be a wage freeze. The other half says: `Let's deregulate the whole wage fixing process'. How do we have a wage freeze but not a centralised wage fixation system? I simply cannot understand it. If they deregulated the labour market, I have no doubt what would happen. The strong unions would get wage increases, and the weak unions would not. There would be a redistribution of income away from workers in weak unions to workers in strong unions. That is the last thing that anyone in this country should want.

As to the Labor Party's relations with unions, it is an historical relationship that is well known. We are a Labor party-that is, we are made up of trade unions and branch members. At least 60 per cent of our State conferences comprises trade union officials and representatives. We do not try to hide from that. It makes us an almost unique party. There are only three or four others in the world like it, as a Labor party. We are not a social democratic party; we are a labor party. Yet, tragically, rarely in government has the Labor Party been able to use its relationship with the trade union movement for the benefit of the people. It is true to say that past State and Federal governments have had as much difficulty dealing in the trade union area as any Liberal government. I admit that readily. We looked at that problem in the early 1980s and decided that the only way to resolve it was to come to an accommodation with the trade unions in which a whole series of trade-offs are done-again we admit that-for the benefit of the Australian economy. From that emerged the accord-the very principles that the Liberal Party realises that it has to destroy before it can get back on to this side of the chamber. It has become quite clear over the last few weeks how desperate the Liberal Party has become to try to destroy the accord; for the Liberals realise that unless they do it, Labor will stay in government. In view of the history of the accord and what it has achieved, it is little wonder that when we go overseas and meet other parliamentarians, or when visiting parliamentarians come here, one of the first things that they want to discuss is how the accord works, so that they can take it back to their countries and try to apply it in their own way.

What the accord has meant is a growth in the economy of this country. We have had economic growth rates of 5 per cent every year that we have been in government. No other country in the Western world has achieved such high rates of economic growth. We have also managed to create, since we came to power, 440,000 jobs-well on track to meeting our promise of 500,000 jobs in the first three years of government. All that, I believe, is due to having the accord as a central part of our economic system.

Senator Walsh —Inflation has come down, too.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Walsh must be a mind-reader because that is the next item to which I go: Inflation has been reduced. The level of industrial disputes in the last financial year is the lowest in man hours lost for 15 years. One could imagine the joy on the Opposition benches if the Liberals had achieved any one of those indicators. In three years of government we happen to have achieved all four.

The accord has proved to be a very flexible concept. When the consumer price index figures jumped, prompted by exchange rate factors that put an inflationary pressure into the CPI, what happened? We were able to renegotiate the accord. It allows for a 2 per cent discount next year, which should take a lot of that inflationary pressure out of the system.

Senator Messner ended by saying that this Government is absolutely dominated by the unions, as though we were some sort of a toady government to which the unions issued orders. That is simply not true, and he knows what an invention it is. He should ask the food preservers whether they can order this Government around. The only group that hates us more than the Liberal Party would be the food preservers union. They bag us week in and week out. He should go and ask the confectioners union whether this Government accepts its orders. Or, finally, he should ask Norm Gallagher down in Lygon Street what he thinks of the Federal Labor Government. Of course they do not like it; and of course we do not accept orders of those particular groups. It is ridiculous to suggest that we do so.

One thing the Liberal Party ought to learn is that to be a successful government it cannot just be confrontationist with unions. It may get the Liberals a few votes on odd occasions to go around union bashing; but, remember, once the election campaign is over, a government has three years in office. The Liberals have got to learn to live with unions and to negotiate with them. I am the first to admit that the Labor Party's approach to business many years ago was a negative, carping one. We had the same sort of attitude to business as the Liberal Party has to unions. We had to go out of our way to learn what business was about, how a growth economy occurred and how to apply those principles. We have done it and I suggest that the Liberal Party do the same.

Have we, in fact, been harmful to various businesses? I argue that we have not. I cite some figures to prove my point. In 1980-81 average weekly earnings increased, under a Liberal Government, by 13.5 per cent. That was a time of virtually no economic growth, by the way. In 1981-82 average weekly earnings increased by 14.5 per cent. In 1982-83-I suppose we had three months' responsibility in that year-average weekly earnings grew by 11.4 per cent. In 1983-84, however, the increase was down to 8.4 per cent. In the last financial year, 1984-85, the increase was down to 6.8 per cent. Honourable senators should compare those figures. In the last financial year of the Labor Government average weekly earnings grew by 6.8 per cent compared with a high point of 14.5 per cent in 1981-82. Few employers would criticise that record.

Let us look at another indicator, profit share, by which businesses often measure whether they are getting a fair shake in the economy. Under the Liberal Party, in 1981-82, profit share was 13.2 per cent. The following year it dropped to 12.7 per cent. When Labor came to office it went up to 14.8 per cent and the following year to 14.9 per cent. On the indication of the September quarter, it is now up to 16.2 per cent. Most of us realise that if we want a privately engendered recovery, we must get investment and investment, essentially, comes from that profit share. It has been restored to what it was 15 years ago. I would say that that is another result directly of the accord and the Labor Party's relationship with the trade union movement. I argue that business will eventually judge this Government by results and not by the empty rhetoric and ideology that spouts out of Senator Messner's mouth on every occasion.

Let us move on to the two real subjects of this matter of public importance, union domination of the Government and superannuation. There has been no real growth in wages in the last three years even though we have had record economic growth. Instead of having a productivity hearing, in which an automatic wage award will be made, the unions have agreed to take it in the form of superannuation. I argue that anything that starts to develop as some sort of comprehensive superannuation scheme in this country, whilst it is 20 or 30 years too late, is, nevertheless, welcome. It is much more welcome than what has existed under previous governments. Much criticism has been made of union run superannuation schemes. I ask the honourable senators opposite whether they have examined any of the exisiting union superannuation schemes. Have they examined the scheme of the pulp and paper workers in Victoria or the storemen and packers? If they have examined any of them, why did they not bring up specific examples of mismanagement? In many ways they have been the best managed of any of the superannuation schemes.

The reason they are very popular, especially in occupations which have a diverse coverage, is that they are portable. It is no use working for one company and being in a company scheme if, when a worker wants to switch to another company, he cannot transfer his superannuation. In union run superannuation schemes there is no bar in switching from one scheme to another. Superannuation on a company basis restricts employer mobility. They are restricted by having to stay at one firm, otherwise they get only a partial payout and basically, nothing out of the scheme.

Many people might argue that we would be better off with a national superannuation scheme. Every government in the last 30 years has looked at implementing a national superannuation scheme and wondered exactly how to implement it. First of all, do we make it an investment funded scheme, that is, do we take money from people and invest it over an enormous area? Any honourable senator opposite could see how much money would come in and be invested by one unit. That could well be unhealthy. Do we make it a pay as you go superannuation scheme? That works terrifically after 10 years but the real difficulty is how to finance it in the first 10 years. The way to finance it in the first 10 years is by whacking up the rates. Any government that whacks up rates to that extent will not be in government in three years time. I am sure that people in the Liberal Party and the Labor Party understand that. The one major alternative at the moment is to have private superannuation schemes run by companies-I do not object to that per se-by unions or by independent groups.

Why the opposition from honourable senators opposite to trade unions getting involved in running those schemes? They have proved in several instances that have come to my attention-I have watched them reasonably closely-that their investment decisions have been very wise. The return on their investments has been either average or above average in the superannuation field. The concept that trade unions would, in some way, use this power to get wage rises is absolutely ridiculous. If honourable senators opposite could cite instances I might start to consider such a concept but they have cited no instances here today. I believe we should try to encourage the taking of what people might call a deferred wage rise in the form of superannuation. When we consider the aging nature of our population and what the social security bill will be in 20 or 25 years time, it is an excellent development.

I wrote down in my notebook some points to respond to from Senator Messner's voyage across the spectrum of politics. He spoke on the subject for five minutes but then wandered off into the South Australian election. I will not test your patience, Madam Acting Deputy President, by exploring that area in any detail other than to say that we are still quoting two to one on this side of the chamber and honourable senators opposite can see us outside the chamber later. Senator Messner made a rather desperate plea today to try to pull the chestnuts out of the fire in South Australia. The matter of public importance has nothing to do with South Australia. It has little substance. Nevertheless, I congratulate Senator Messner. He might as well have a little dive in to the South Australian election to see what he can retrieve. He might retrieve Mount Gambier, although I doubt it. If I were he I would start looking at a pendulum of around 4 or 5 per cent and start defending those seats.

I will not have an opportunity to comment on the view of the Australian Democrats as Senator Siddons is to follow me. I was able to see a report of his comments on the Carleton-Walsh Report last night. It will come as little surprise to Senator Siddons to learn that I do not agree with any of his comments on this subject. I do not believe that unions will abuse their position in setting up superannuation funds. If it gives them some sort of economic influence and power over enterprise, so much the better. That fits in fairly well with some of the other concepts which Senator Siddons puts forward in terms of worker control and participation. I see nothing wrong with the working class of this country owning enterprises via their superannuation schemes or anything else. The more we diversify ownership and the means of production the better. It is a healthy situation to occur.

I have one other point. The Government has been accused of not sticking to its general policy on superannuation. We have stuck to it. We stuck to it yesterday in our negotiations with the Storemen and Packers Union. It will not have any superannuation scheme until after 1 July next year. We are sticking to it in our negotiations with the Transport Workers Union. We have been absolutely consistent in saying to unions that they cannot get these schemes going until the agreement says so, and that is on 1 July next year.

In conclusion, this matter of public importance has never been very important. It has never been of much interest to the public. It is another union bashing exercise by our friends opposite who are getting fairly desperate. Christmas is coming on. They are 4 per cent behind the Government in one opinion poll. Their bright, shiny new leader, Mr Howard, is collapsing even below the depths that Mr Peacock plummeted some months ago. He is not getting anywhere in the public opinion polls so the Opposition has brought on an MPI on union bashing. Even if that gets it a few votes in electorate land, it will still have to think in the long term. If it is to get back into government it will have to think what its industrial relations policy will be. I hope that Senator Parer, who is to speak soon in this debate, will be able to outline in some detail what is the Opposition's wages policy. If it gets into government, will it have a central wage fixing system? If not, will it become the law of the jungle again, as it did in 1980, 1981 and 1982 when we had a wages explosion? The Opposition has to answer all those questions if it expects to be taken as a reasonable opposition and an alternative government.

As I have said, this matter of public importance debate today is nothing more than a union-bashing exercise. I am sure that, in 20 years time, whoever is standing around these benches-it will not be many of us-will look back on this era as a great development, when trade unions got into the superannuation field, took up the slack which no government or no other organisation has been willing to get involved with and gave its employees and workers benefits that they long deserved.