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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2375

Senator BLACK(4.39) —I have some degree of sympathy for the Opposition, particularly those Opposition senators from South Australia, because they are in a difficult position. It seems that their campaign for the State election in South Australia was going to be based on high interest rates and on the penalty that they imposed on people who are buying homes in the outer marginal seats of South Australia. It seems that the only assistance that could be provided for the Liberal candidates in marginal seats by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) was to argue in favour of the removal altogether of the current ceiling on bank mortgage interest rates. I understand that that proposal was reported yesterday in the Melbourne Age by Mr Philip Chubb as an example of `ludicrous inpetitude', a comment that I am sure is endorsed by all honourable senators on this side of the chamber. In order to try to make up for that example of ludicrous ineptitude, we have had this farce of a debate this afternoon, which basically comprised an attack on the Bannon Government, something to which I will refer later. I would, however, remind honourable senators opposite that at least the Opposition in South Australia can win with 50 per cent of the vote, which is a considerable improvement on the position the Liberals have left us in in Queensland, where we need something like 55 per cent of the preferred vote.

Senator Boswell —You never got 50 per cent of the vote in your life. You never got more than 44 per cent of the vote.

Senator BLACK —Senator Boswell has just reminded me of his presence in the chamber. I point out that the National Party of Australia in Queensland can ensure its continued survival, after the latest redistribution, with only 36 per cent of the first preference vote. I worked for a union for some time and all of the ballots in that union were organised, administered and run by the Commonwealth Electoral Office. We needed 50 per cent of the vote to win, I point out to Senator Boswell, and that is something I would commend to the National Party.

Senator Parer talked about blackmail, about the lack of democracy and about the abuse of civil rights. If Senator Parer is concerned about blackmail, why did he not support my proposal for an inquiry into National Free Enterprise Ltd, something close to Senator Boswell's heart? That would have to be one of the greatest examples of blackmail by a body outside the elected representatives of this place that has ever been seen. That body donated some $300,000 to the last National Party campaign and the origins of that money have never been disclosed. If Senator Parer is concerned about a lack of democracy, why does he not urge his colleagues in the Queensland Parliament to vote with the Australian Labor Party to ensure that we have a fair redistribution in Queensland, something they have been invited to do on just about every day of every parliamentary sitting for the last few years? If he is concerned about civil rights, I ask him why his colleagues in the State Liberal Party in Queensland supported the outrageous National Party amendments to the Liquor Act, and even went one step further and tried to add homosexuals to the list of deviants and child molesters who are currently prohibited from getting a drink in Queensland. I am pleased to see Senator Boswell smiling because in doing so he is acknowledging that the Nationals thought that that was a bit too much.

Senator Teague also spoke about the record of the South Australian Government. I am indebted to my former workmate in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet of South Australia, Senator Maguire, for providing me with some more recent figures, which perhaps have escaped Senator Teague's attention, about the economic record of the Bannon Labor Government. As it seems that most of the Opposition speakers have concentrated their efforts on this, perhaps I should put these on the record. I point out that between 1984 and 1985, the period for which the latest statistics are available, total unemployment in South Australia fell by 10 per cent, total employment rose by 2.8 per cent, and youth unemployment, which was referred to by Senator Teague, fell by 24.8 per cent. Retail sales went up by 11.5 per cent and new car sales by 7.9 per cent, accompanied by a private investment increase of 43.4 per cent, and bankruptcies fell by some 14.8 per cent. I would back the figures provided to me by Senator Maguire against any of those provided by Liberal Party researchers. In late 1982, when the Bannon Labor Government was elected, the South Australian economy--

Senator Boswell —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I do not think the speech Senator Black is making relates to the matter of public importance, which reads: `The trade union domination of the Government, particularly on the superannuation issue, to the detriment of the Australian community'. As far as I can see--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! I have been listening to Senator Black carefully and he has been using many arguments to tie in with the matter before the Senate. There is no point of order.

Senator BLACK —Before the Bannon Government was elected three years of Liberal Party Government, under Mr Tonkin, had produced falling employment and rising unemployment. In fact, for 33 consecutive months South Australia had the highest unemployment rate of all the mainland States. After just three years of responsible economic management by the Bannon Labor Government all of that has changed. One of the major priorities for the Bannon Government, together with the union movement in South Australia, which of course is one of the topics of this debate, has been to ensure that that situation has been maintained. Between the three months to October 1984 and the three months to October 1985 the total number of employed persons in South Australia increased by an average of 15,500. Over the same period the number of persons unemployed in South Australia fell by an average of 6,000, which is down by the 10 per cent to which I referred earlier. The level of youth unemployment decreased by an average of 3,800 persons-that is, down nearly 25 per cent. In relation to job vacancies in South Australia, in August 1982 there were 50 unemployed South Australians fighting for every job vacancy. That ratio is now down to 14.6 unemployed people for every job vacancy, which is a much more normal position, and the trend is continuing downwards. This key indicator of labour market strength has shown a rapid improvement under the Bannon Labor Government.

The healthy economy has meant new investment for South Australia. The level of private investment is expected to be 43.4 per cent higher in the current financial year than it was last year. This new investment will mean more jobs and more job opportunities for South Australians in the future-under a Bannon Labor Government, I point out. That Government has also presided over a generally much more prosperous private sector economy. When an economy is performing badly there is no more striking indicator than the level of bankruptcies. In the days of the Tonkin Liberal Government bankruptcies in South Australia reached record levels. Liquidation and receivership became the only growth industries. Under the Bannon Labor Government the number of bankruptcies has declined dramatically. Between the 1983-84 and 1984-85 financial years the number of bankruptcies in South Australia declined from 775 to 660, a fall of 15 per cent and the lowest figure for some 15 years.

Senator Maguire —Queensland is going up.

Senator BLACK —As my colleague Senator Maguire has pointed out, the number in Queensland is continuing to rise, setting new records in that area. I want to deal now with some of the benefits of the prices and incomes accord that have been passed on to all Australians. I contrast some of the figures relating to the economy prior to the accord with some of those which now apply after the first three years of the accord. Before the accord the number of working days lost due to industrial disputes was at a record high. Since the accord the number of working days lost due to industrial disputes has fallen to its lowest level in 17 years. That has been due to the relationship between the Hawke Federal Labor Government and the union movement, which I believe has been one of the hallmarks of this Government and has succeeded in maintaining real wage levels and at the same time ensuring that some of the economic growth we have been experiencing has been channelled off into employment growth. That is something we should all commend.

As far as unemployment is concerned, in the days before the accord one in every 10 Australians was out of work. In the year before the accord some 190,000 jobs were lost. Unemployment has fallen below 600,000 for the first time in three years. In fact, between April 1983 and July 1985 some 410,000 new jobs were created. As I have said, that is due to the fact that we have been able to build up a relationship with the unions which has ensured that any increase in demand in the economy has not been siphoned off into wage increases. We have also been able to bring inflation down from its pre-accord level of 11.5 per cent to where it has been almost halved. Before the accord, economic growth was declining by some 1.5 per cent on an annual basis, which was almost the worst performance in this country's history. Since the accord economic growth has been running at about 5 per cent on an annual basis and is continuing to do so. As far as investment is concerned, before the accord private fixed capital expenditure in 1982-83 fell by some 17.6 per cent. By March 1985 this investment expenditure was increasing at an annual rate of some 5.4 per cent.

Part of the debate has been devoted to superannuation schemes and their relationship to the accord. I remind honourable senators opposite that the second stage of the accord provides for a 3 per cent equivalent resulting from next year's productivity case to be taken in the form of improved superannuation benefits. I believe that this move is long overdue because nationally history has shown that pre-existing schemes were biased strongly against a number of workers in the Australian community who were least able to fend for themselves. They were biased against casual or part time workers, against women, against low income earners and against private sector employees. A number of union officials found this completely unacceptable and certainly a number of Government politicians have found it unacceptable.

The employment benefits survey for August 1984 showed the total number of workers benefiting from superannuation schemes to be 39.5 per cent-a figure about 5 per cent lower than the equivalent superannuation survey data, but I will rely on it for the purposes of comparison. The earlier figures before superannuation started to be discussed seriously in the Australian community, before about August 1984, showed that of the private sector employees only about 29.5 per cent benefited from superannuation schemes whereas in the public sector the figure was about 61.3 per cent. The total number of females benefiting from superannuation schemes was 24.7 per cent compared with 49.1 per cent of males. Of course, the most disadvantaged sector was females working in private enterprise, of whom only 16.7 per cent benefited from superannuation schemes. In addition, schemes in existence at that time provided benefits mainly to upper income earners. Of workers earning $600 or more a week, 72.6 per cent benefited from superannuation schemes. Of workers at the lower end of the scale, that is, those earning between $200 and $240 a week, only about one in four benefited from superannuation schemes.

Those figures clearly show that the systems in existence up to that time, and which to a large extent are in existence now, were inadequate and militated against the less advantaged sections of the work force. I also point out that there is an increasing need for superannuation schemes as shown by demographic profiles of the age of the Australian population. In 1983, 10 per cent of the Australian population was aged 65 or over. In the year 2021 some 16 per cent of the population will be in that age group. This means that there will be an increasing drain on Commonwealth Government resources to pay for pension benefits for those people.

With regard to pension benefits, the proportion of Commonwealth revenue going to age pensions has increased from 6.9 per cent in 1953-54 to 8.8 per cent in 1963-64 and to 10.9 per cent in 1983-84. That shows that existing schemes of superannuation disadvantage those workers in the work force least able to look after themselves. If that is married to the data on the aging of the Australian work force and the Australian population, the information clearly shows that there was a demand on the Australian Government and on the Australian union movement to respond to those movements. I believe that the arrangements currently being made between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government in that area more than adequately respond to those movements. I move:

That the business of the day be brought on.

Question resolved in the affirmative.