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Tuesday, 29 August 1989
Page: 455

Senator STONE —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I preface it by referring to the extraordinarily foolish role which has been played by the Prime Minister in the airline pilots dispute at the behest of Mr Kelty and the Australian Council of Trade Unions and in a desperate attempt to shore up the failing accord. Firstly, does the Minister agree that the current airline pilots dispute is causing untold damage not merely to Australia's airline industry, but even more importantly to our tourism balance of payments and the Australian economy generally? Secondly, given the Prime Minister's continuing refusal to face reality on the issue, does the Minister agree that it is fortunate that today's decision by Moody's Investor Services Inc. international rating service to downgrade Australia's credit rating was announced now and not in, say, three months' time, when no doubt it would have pushed our rating even lower?

Senator BUTTON —First of all, Senator Stone has attempted to marry two issues into one in a way which I can only describe as inventive. Let me just deal with the Moody's credit rating issue, which he referred to in the second part of the question. I notice that Reuters described Moody's decision this morning as a big yawn, and it is not surprising that the first question to come from Senator Stone is about a big yawn. Let me refer to the substance of the honourable senator's question, which of course was not so much a question as a short speech which might well have been given on the adjournment.

Yes, I do agree that the current airline dispute is causing considerable damage to the tourist industry and to the economy and in the potential medium to long term will cause some damage to the balance of payments. The next part of the question is hung on the phrase `the refusal of the Prime Minister to face reality about this dispute'. What is the reality of this dispute, Senator Stone? Is the reality that we give in to the air pilots in this issue? That would have been the reality under a Liberal government; it was the reality under a Liberal government in respect of wages in 1980-82. That would be immensely damaging to this country, because the reality of it is that the productivity of the airline pilots in this country is not good at all compared with productivity in other countries.

When Senator Stone, as a director of Robe River, wanted to beat his chest about standing up to people in industrial disputes, he did it. But when the Prime Minister says similar sorts of things, it becomes an exercise in unreality. I find this an extraordinary question, coming from Senator Stone. In Senator Stone's political career was the `Joh for Canberra' push a reality and was he involved in it? Was that going to be a good thing for this country? That was a political reality. If we want to talk about political realities in here and who is real about the pilots dispute and who is not, I just draw the honourable senator's attention to the fact that the Government's position has been from the outset that it would support the airlines, the employers concerned, in respect of the appropriate attitude which they took to this dispute. That is what has been done and what will continue to be done by the Government.

Senator STONE —Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. I note with interest the responses of the Minister, which as usual take the form, in part at least, of playing the man rather than the ball. I ask the Minister whether or not he agrees, in the light of his reference to the Reuters report, that it is certainly in one sense a yawn because the markets had already to a degree anticipated that the Moody's report would indeed downgrade the credit rating of Australia. Does he agree that that is the reason why it is described as a yawn? Would he also agree then that that is hardly a reason for the kind of complacency now being displayed by himself and other members of the Government? Secondly, on the question of reality, to which the Minister referred in his response, does the Minister consider it real or unreal for the Government to take a position which forbids the pilots to get back around the negotiating table with the airlines, having in mind the full knowledge that that is the only way in the end in which this matter will be settled?

Senator BUTTON —The second part of the question indicates the ongoing confusion which is apparent in the Opposition with Senator Lewis's notice of motion on behalf of Senator Chaney to reintroduce the Industrial Relations (Directions to Stop Industrial Action) Amendment Bill 1989. When the pilots are outside the system Senator Chaney comes in here twice and says that we should increase the penalties under the system. That concept is inherent in the attitude of the Opposition. There is no question of the Government forbidding the pilots from talking to their employers. What a lot of rubbish! What a piece of misinformation put forward in the form of a supplementary question that is!

Without going into great detail in respect of the Moody's rating issue, let me refer Senator Stone to an article in the Australian Financial Review today which discusses this issue. It makes the point that Moody's does not even seem to know what it is rating. It is being asked to rate sovereign debt. If Senator Stone wants a lengthy explanation of sovereign debt in this country, I will give it to him or to some of his satellites to whom he can give a question to ask the Government. As to the suggestion that I am playing the man rather than the ball in answering this question as I did, I ask what Senator Stone's question concerning the Prime Minister was about. Senator Stone is not in some academic drinking club here; he is in the kitchen. He asked his question as a question in the kitchen, if not in the gutter. He got the answer which he deserved.