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Monday, 24 May 1993
Page: 1090

Senator COONEY (4.23 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I say with great respect that you fill the chair with considerable distinction. This is a very interesting debate about promises that were made in the last election and whether or not the Government has kept them. Promises can be made with a rush of blood to the head, with too much emotion and too little thought, and with huff and with puff. The interpretation of promises and whether they have been broken can suffer the same malady. It is all very well in this modern age to erect straw people and then knock them over.

  Much of the evidence that has been used to bolster the debate today has been taken from the media. It must be acknowledged that evidence taken from the media and from the press has credibility. In a debate such as this, it is best to base one's argument on the document containing the safest evidence. The document entitled Putting jobs first: accord agreement 1993-1996, put out by the ACTU in March 1993 and which can be obtained for the fairly reasonable price of $2, sets out what the Government has promised.

  The Opposition has brought up two issues so far in this debate. The next speech will be from Senator Reid and—I say this advisedly—I anticipate will be a very distinguished contribution from a very distinguished senator. The speeches so far have picked out as the issues that we have to face today the promise of an $8 a week rise from 1 July 1993 and the tax cuts. People listening to this debate may gain the impression from what has been said by those opposite that the Government has promised an $8 increase on 1 July. That is not accurate. It may be worth my while going to the document to which I have referred to see exactly what has been promised. Paragraph 5.8 says:

The arbitrated—

it has to be arbitrated—

safety net, primarily for lower paid workers—

remember that this is primarily for lower paid workers and that the statement is made in the context of the great criticism of this Government on the tax rates applicable to lower paid workers; that criticism should have been balanced against this clause—

will make available the following award adjustments during the course of the next 3 years.

. an $8 per week adjustment available—

available is the word advisedly—

after 1 July 1993;

. two further adjustments of between $5 and $10, available from 1 July 1994 and 1 July 1995 respectively.

Mr Acting Deputy President, with your renowned legal and economic knowledge, the following paragraph, paragraph 5.9, will make a great deal of sense. It very much throws a rider on what was said. It says:

Any arbitrated safety net adjustments shall be consistent with the central objective of this Accord objective ie to promote sustainable employment growth and substantially reduce unemployment.

It was not an $8 a week promise that we could pick up willy-nilly. Paragraph 5.10 states:

There are three essential steps involved in accessing the arbitrated safety net . . .

And it goes on. Paragraph 5.11 states:

There will be no double counting. Arbitrated safety net increases will not apply to employees receiving wage increases through workplace bargaining.

At the end of this document, under the heading `The process envisaged in accord mark VII', `step five' states:

The union/employers may after a reasonable period seek to vary the award by increasing the award rates. This claim shall be limited to $8.00 subject to the overriding conditions of the Accord.

The overriding conditions of the accord are set out in the introduction. I do not want to keep reading; I will just read the introduction, paragraph 1.1:

This three year Accord agreement has been formulated to address the key social concern facing Australia today—unemployment. It will provide the basis upon which Australia can promote sustainable employment growth, substantially reduce unemployment and enhance its international competitiveness. It is an agreement based on cooperation not conflict.

Senator Kemp —The $8 has been abandoned, Senator Cooney.

Senator COONEY —No, the $8 has certainly not been abandoned.

Senator Kemp —When does it apply from, then?

Senator COONEY —It is available after 1 July 1994 subject to all those conditions that I have told the honourable senator about. Conditions are attached to undertakings for a particular reason, that is, that if those conditions do not apply, then what was promised does not flow. That was understood by the great guardian of workers' rights, the ACTU, and the union movement. That is made quite clear in paragraph 9.1 of this document, `Union Commitments':

Union commitments have been an essential underpinning to the wage system and will continue to be so. The union movement will honour the undertakings outlined in this Accord agreement, including the following specific commitments:

  (i) all claims will be assessed against employment growth.

So there is an understanding between the union movement and the Government that whatever has been promised will be carried out in the context of promoting sustainable employment and of adding to Australia's future prosperity. I simply point that out to show that there is a danger in getting things half right, in saying `Look, an $8 agreement was to operate after 1 July', without looking at how that $8 was to flow.

  Certainly parties should be kept to the promises they make during an election campaign if they become government. But, on the other hand, those promises that they should be obliged to fulfil should be fulfilled in terms of the conditions that were set out. In other words, just as the obligation is upon parties to carry out their promises when they become government, they are quite entitled to rely on the conditions within which they made those commitments.

  I want to come to the tax cuts, which are also set out in this document. Senator Kernot, in a powerful speech, said that these tax cuts are not for people who earn $20,700 or less. That is true, but it is wrong to leave that statement in the air without putting it in the context of this accord agreement—to say that the tax cuts are not for the lower earners and that therefore there is a gross dereliction of duty on behalf of this Government. These tax cuts were put into an agreement with the ACTU and the union movement, which so ably represents the workers of this country. Senator Kemp is a secret admirer of the movement, in spite of what he sometimes says. Let us look at these tax cuts which are set out in paragraph 8. It is worth while reading paragraph 8.1, which states:

The Government is committed to further reductions in tax rates. Reflecting this, the substantial personal tax cuts announced in the Government's One Nation Statement were legislated in December 1992. These tax scales provide substantial reductions in marginal tax rates faced by the great majority of working men and women in Australia.

That is the point about these tax cuts: they do apply to the great majority of working men and women in Australia. Anybody who earns over $50,000 a year will receive no tax cuts at all. Out of a sense of fairness, one would have hoped that those opposite would have acknowledged that and the fact that those tax cuts, which are criticised by Senator Kernot as well as the Opposition, will apply to the vast majority of working men and women in this country.

  The tax scales set out in this document show that people who earn $20,700 or less a year will receive no tax cuts. People who earn up to $5,400 a year are not taxed at all. People who earn between $5,400 and $20,700 a year are taxed at 20 per cent per week. There has been no change to those figures.

  This document must be looked at as a whole. Although no tax deductions apply to those people who earn $20,700 a year or less, there are provisions for education and training, health care, child care, workplace reform, provisional age pensioners and situations that arise when employers become insolvent. The agreement between the union movement and the Government produces very solid and very substantial gains for the community as a whole, which will lead to the reduction of unemployment and which will enhance the international competitiveness of this country, as promised in this document. The document then talks about maintaining low inflation, but we do not have time to look at that.

  The point is that this document stands as solid evidence of what the Government will do. It is unsafe to base an argument on comments from the press, as has been done here today. This is the document that should have been argued about; this is the document that puts the Government's position fairly and squarely. I am the only senator so far to base my case on this document. Everybody else has based his or her argument on the sometimes florid outpourings of the press—great institution that it is. When we advance arguments such as those we have been advancing today, let us rely on the evidence that counts; that is, what is put down in black and white between the great union movement and this Government. (Time expired)