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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2638

Senator CHANEY —Does the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce believe that Australian industry, particularly manufacturing industry, is in a position to cope with added across the board labour costs which the superannuation proposals represent, on top of the 3.8 per cent across the board national wage rise and likely further wage rises?

Senator BUTTON —The short answer to that question is yes, but as that will clearly not satisfy Senator Chaney, I will give some explanation as to why. The 3.8 per cent increase which has been awarded by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will be offset in part by the increase which is likely to be awarded in the April 1986 national wage case. Senator Chaney and all other honourable senators are fully aware that the Government, in a series of negotiations with the unions about the effects of the devaluation, reached an accommodation which provided for that offset to be obtained in the case next year.

I am asked whether industry will be able to cope with the effects of superannuation claims or the effect of a superannuation burden. Before these things are finally negotiated, there is always a lot of speculation about what the effects will be. There has been a great deal of speculation and ill-informed speculation engaged in by Opposition spokesmen in the last week or two which has been reflected in Question Time in the Senate.

I think that the superannuation arrangements, depending on what they are because again they are subject to determination by the Arbitration Commission in terms of amount, can be accommodated by an industry sector which is much more productive and profitable than it has been for many years. Senator Chaney knows that full well.

Senator Chaney —Senator Chaney is shaking his head in disbelief at this answer.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney is shaking his head and if he keeps on shaking his head it may well drop off because it is a wooden head. He can shake his head and he can do all these things. I suppose it is the role of an Opposition to shake its head. There has not been much else in the way of talent supplied in the Senate in the past few weeks. The honourable senator can keep on shaking his head. I think these matters will be successfully negotiated.

Senator Messner —When will we get the guidelines?

Senator BUTTON —In the longer term the benefits to Australian industry and to improving the relationship between employer and employee within an industry I believe will be greatly enhanced by these measures. Senator Messner interjects about the guidelines. The guidelines will be the subject of discussion between the Government and business groups, I believe, this week.

Senator Messner —We have not seen them yet.

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator has not seen them yet, but what would be the relevance of his seeing them? None at all. He will see them after they have been negotiated with business representatives and others, and then they will be published. There is no point in publishing guidelines before agreement is reached about their contents which is satisfactory to the parties, and that is what we will be doing.

Senator CHANEY —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the Minister seen the estimates that the superannuation schemes could increase labour costs by $6,000m a year? Does he seriously suggest that industry generally, and manufacturing industry in particular, can take that impost without suffering damage?

Senator BUTTON —If wages are cut in half-

Senator Chaney —That is not the question.

Senator BUTTON —It may not be the question but I am giving the answer, not Senator Chaney. If wages are cut in half then everybody in Australian industry would say that they were better off as a result, except the employees and their families, who would not be able to buy things any more.

Senator Chaney —I know of no one in industry who would argue that.

Senator BUTTON —No, I am arguing. If the wages burden is left static, we get a static situation. If the wages burden is increased over time, that may make it harder. But wages cannot be isolated from all the other factors which bear on industry competitiveness. If only the Opposition could get out of that habit it might have a much more constructive view to offer about a wide range of issues. We have said consistently in this place that under this Government we have had no wages explosion such as there was under the Fraser Government in 1981 and 1982. We have had a 17 per cent decline in industrial disputation. They are factors which one should take into account. We have had a vastly improved performance in the profitability of Australian companies. That is also a factor which has to be taken into account. A wide range of things have to be taken into account in producing a satisfactory solution. So to take this issue out of context displays all the capacity to see through a keyhole with both eyes at once, but that really does not help very much with the problem.