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Wednesday, 29 September 1993
Page: 1426

Senator MURPHY (5.02 p.m.) —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President, and I also wish to thank other senators for allowing me to make my first speech. May I say at the outset that I am very proud to stand here as a new senator representing the state of Tasmania and the people of Australia generally. It is with a degree of humility that I take up this task but it is one that I will endeavour to perform to the fullest extent. Hopefully, I will meet the expectations the public have of their elected representatives in this parliament.

  My pursuit of political life is born out of my working class background and the struggles that have confronted ordinary Australians over the time that this country has developed. They are struggles that I will continue to pursue during my time as a senator in this chamber.

  I was born in the west coast mining town of Queenstown, Tasmania. My father worked as a fitter and turner at Mt Lyell copper mine and my mother was from a farming family in the north of the state. I attended school at the Hagley Farm and Prospect high schools. However, I was no great scholar and left school at the end of my third year of high school.

  I had many jobs after leaving school, and at the age of 15 I headed for Queensland to work in shearing sheds in the outback.

Senator Boswell —Good choice.

Senator MURPHY —Yes, and it was a good place too. During my time in Queensland I learnt to be a shearer. This became my job and life for the next 14 years. This was a period of great learning for me and contained many lessons about life. It was a time I enjoyed enormously and remember fondly. I worked throughout most states of Australia and met some wonderful characters and made many great friendships.

  It was also my first real introduction to the trade union movement, something that was to have a profound effect on me in time to come. In the late 1970s I returned to live in Tasmania, with my interest in politics growing by the day. I joined the Labor Party in 1982 and became heavily involved in the Tasmanian branch of the ALP from that time on. In 1989 I became state secretary of the Australian Timber Workers Union, which is now a division of the CFMEU, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, a position I held until elected to the Senate.

  This provided me with the opportunity to represent workers in an industry where employers had neglected to address matters such as training and education, that had pay rates that were not commensurate with the tasks performed, and where there was no recognition of skills and no career advancement opportunities. During my four years as secretary I saw many changes that were brought about by the efforts of the union—changes that not only improved conditions for workers but also improved the whole work process and led to greater productivity and efficiency within the industry. I believe I can say quite categorically that none of those changes would have occurred without the efforts of the union. I would like to congratulate the leadership of the union at both the national and state level on the great contribution they made and to thank them for the support they gave me.

  Of course, not all employers would accept such processes. One example of this is the APPM dispute that occurred at Burnie. For the first time in a long time in Australia's industrial history, workers were confronted with the type of bastardry that the opposition would have us believe does not exist in this country—where an employer sought to deny workers the fundamental right to be collectively represented and organised. To their great credit, the overwhelming majority of those workers took the issue on and fought for what was right. They should be commended for their effort, their unity and their commitment to protect that fundamental Australian democratic right.

  Obviously, industrial relations will be an area of keen interest to me. It is with the knowledge of the APPMs of this world that I have often noted, and with some amusement, the continual castigation of the trade union movement by members of the opposition. This action, plus the industrial relations policy it went to the election with, simply does not gel with the calls it now makes for fairer treatment of the working class Australians. It is policies such as those and the actions of many of Australia's employers that maintain my commitment to the trade union movement. I will do whatever I can to ensure its survival and the continuation of its role of representing workers of this country. In saying that, I do not imply a disinterest in or lack of understanding of the concerns and aspirations of Australian business, nor a disbelief in profit making or business success. I do understand and recognise these things because I know that without successful businesses there is no employment.

  Of course, the opposition still clings to the belief that we have to get rid of unions to free up the labour market and allow bosses to sit down with their workers individually and supposedly work out a fair deal for all. However, one of the major problems with that approach is the management in many of Australia's companies and businesses. Because of their lack of foresight, initiative and general incompetence, to them a free labour market means reducing wages and conditions of workers and not working smarter or developing new products or, indeed, seeking new markets or improving the quality of products they produce. Of course, this leads to claims about the current industrial relations system—the system that is supposed to give unions all power.

  I would like to give an example of how it does not and how employers are exploiting workers even under this presumably restrictive system. This example involved four unemployed sawmill workers who, in seeking work, had a proposition put to them that they could set up their own business and operate their own sawmill. The proposer of this deal would sell them the logs necessary to cut the timber and then would on-sell the finished product for them. Of course, they had no money to start with, so the proposer would lend them the first month's rent for the sawmill as well as some other money for outgoings.

  They were informed that they could not draw wages until the mill made a profit but, in the meantime, they would receive $20 a week from this new found friend to pay for their petrol, et cetera, ensuring that they could still collect social security. This continued for nine months and, according to the bookkeeper—who just happened to be the proposer—the mill never made a profit, despite all of the timber being sold and no wages being paid.

  It is that sort of thing that really leads me to maintain a great commitment to what is right for workers in this country. Those workers were not members of a union at the time. They finally sought the assistance of the CFMEU and, even under the current system, the union had great difficulty in doing something about it because of the way the deal was set up, the way this person was technically avoiding the law.

   The matter was reported to the Department of Industrial Relations and also to the Department of Social Security—with little result. The union is now taking the matter to court to try to bring about some justice for these workers, who were trying to create an opportunity for themselves and who were being blatantly ripped off by some grub of an employer.

  I could outline numerous such circumstances that occurred just during my time as a union secretary. So imagine how these types of employers would operate under the free labour market system being proposed by the opposition! John Howard's proposed office of employee advocate would have been the only area of employment growth and would have probably become one of the largest industrial relations departments in history. Even then, it would still not have been able to deal with the exploitation that would have occurred.

  It should not be forgotten that the people of Australia rejected the opposition's industrial relations policy on 13 March. They were not prepared, even in the face of difficult employment times, to support policies which would have made things worse: they would have reduced their wages, put more of them out of work and placed them in a position of great vulnerability. As honourable senators are aware, the current system, whilst not perfect, has delivered stability and, in many respects, fairness; however, it can and will be improved.

  The government is currently reviewing industrial relations legislation and, much to the disgust of those on the other side, it is consulting the trade union movement, along with industry. We recognise that, to have a process that can deliver in the interests of the country, we must take account of all views. The opposition, on the other hand, would not have done that. It would have simply legislated to outlaw unionism as Australians know it today. It would have reduced the current award system to a state of worthlessness; indeed, I believe it would have ultimately abolished the award system.

  Given the outlook for employment growth in the short-term future, the exploitation of Australian workers would have gone out of control. We would have ended up with a society of haves and have-nots. And what would that have done for the economy? Not much, I think. People would be less able to save, with less to spend, and the result would be additional job losses to those already occurring through productivity and efficiency gains. This is not what Australia needs, and that is why Labor won the last election—because Australians believe in a fair go.

  Whilst on the issue of fairness, I feel it appropriate that I speak about the achievements of 10 years of Labor in government and, in particular, about the current budget. When we came to office in 1983, Australia was an inward looking, protectionist, inefficient, uncompetitive country with double digit inflation, double digit unemployment and a confrontationist industrial relations system that had industrial disputation at record levels. We had poor education and training levels—

Senator Panizza —That's because you ACTU-ed it.

Senator MURPHY —Yes, Senator Panizza, the ACTU has done a lot to improve the lot of business in this country. We had a Third World pattern of exports and a government—the Fraser government—that chose to ignore the potential trade opportunities within the Asian region. A decade later the Australian economy has been transformed. Certainly we still have high unemployment, but the rest of the picture is dramatically changed. Our economic fundamentals have been dramatically improved through building a much more competitive economy, along with a cooperative approach to industrial relations; greatly enhanced levels of education and training, research and development and export assistance; a much more competitive business tax system; and a government that is promoting and pursuing trade opportunities in Asia as well as the rest of the world.

  We now have the lowest level of inflation in 30 years; interest rates which are the lowest in 20 years; international competitiveness up by over 30 per cent since 1983; industrial disputes at the lowest level ever recorded; productivity increasing at a healthy 2.5 per cent per annum; exports of manufactured goods rising at 20 per cent per annum; service exports that now represent 20 per cent of total exports; and many small and medium manufacturing companies which are competing in overseas markets. In short, we have a much more innovative, productive and competitive economy than 10 years ago and, as a result, Australia is better placed to advance the welfare and living standards of its people. We have also built a much fairer Australia, with those on low incomes and those in need receiving greater assistance through better targeting of welfare and community services.

  The government, during its 10 years in office, has been about vision and a clear sense of direction. We set out to transform the Australian economy, and we have. Australia is on a fundamentally different path now to that which it had followed for most of this century, and Australians have accepted this change in direction. Even the opposition, which governed Australia for most of this century and made it what it was up to 1983, has fully accepted this change, and its criticisms are not about the directions we have taken, but rather that we are not demolishing quickly enough the structure it put in place.

  But where do we go from here? The government's objectives are straightforward enough. They are: to increase the rate of economic and employment growth, thus increasing real incomes and reducing unemployment; to enhance the level of our domestic savings, which is an essential element of addressing our balance of payments problem; to continue the process of making Australia a creative, innovative manufacturing nation; to improve the international environment for our export industries by new and improved international trade arrangements; to establish a new vocational education and training system which will better meet the needs and priorities of industry; and to continue to enhance social justice in our society. Therefore, there should be no doubt about where the government is taking the nation. The record shows that we are headed in the right direction.

  These measures have been continued in the latest budget which, despite all the claims, maintains a fairer society and yet continues the program of returning this country's economy to a stable and vibrant position for the future. Of course, we have not solved all of our problems, and one of the fundamental issues that we must continue to address is that of unemployment. Although we have put in place substantial labour market programs for the next 12 months, including the continuation of programs such as newstart, jobclubs, LEAP, NIES and so on—which have been very successful in getting people into full-time work—we cannot rest there.

  Personally, I believe there are some areas that must be given special consideration. In particular, we should look at imports which come into this country. I do not believe we can continue to allow imports to come into this country without a greater requirement for identification of the country of origin. The buy Australian program must be revitalised and the loopholes that allow the current system to be rorted must be removed. We must be able to guarantee Australians that when they seek to buy Australian they really can buy Australian. This is a matter I intend to pursue with some vigour, particularly in the area of forest products, which represent around 10 per cent of this country's imports.

  Obviously, part of the process of addressing import replacement will be business investment and development. However, a lot of Australian companies seem to be sitting on their hands in this respect. But there are now good reasons why investment should commence: profit shares are at quite high levels and rising; and the gross operating surpluses of trading enterprises are at high levels compared to this stage of recovery from the previous downturns in the mid-1970s and 1980s. It is also 22 per cent higher than it was in March 1983 when Labor came to office. Real unit labour costs have been virtually stable. All this, coupled with low inflation and interest rates and further business tax concessions in the budget, has provided a better business investment outlook for the future.

  The budget measures are, of course, important. Together with business tax concessions announced in the One Nation package, they form a comprehensive array of incentives. They also provide a very competitive tax regime compared to those of our trading partners, even our Asian trading partners. The new company tax rates are 33 per cent, down from 39 per cent—something the opposition was going to increase to 42 per cent had it won the election. I must say that there have been some interesting comments from business about that.

  The strategy on which this year's budget has been based is to enhance growth in the short term through further expenditure for job creation and tax cuts, which will lead us into a longer term recovery that will come as the world economy picks up. What I now find difficult to understand—in fact, almost inconceivable—is the current position being adopted by the opposition in respect of this budget. On the one hand it claims to want fiscal responsibility, yet on the other it is opposing the government's revenue raising measures. I can understand its disappointment at losing the supposedly unlosable election, but Australians should now judge it for the reckless disregard it is showing for the welfare of this nation.

  Another area of concern to me is our economic relationship with New Zealand. While I believe it is necessary and important, I find it difficult to accept the imbalance that lies in the employment related area. I know that the Senate has conducted inquiries into some aspects of this, but the problem still seems to exist. Regardless of the explanation, I do not see why the people of New Zealand should be treated differently from people from other countries when it comes to working in Australia, or vice versa for that matter. It should be noted that, on current figures that can be identified, the New Zealand work force in Australia represents about two per cent of our current unemployed people, and I believe this is unacceptable.

  I would now like to turn to two other key issues facing Australia today. The first relates to land rights and native title, which have been highlighted by the recent Mabo decision. In essence, this decision provided us with the opportunity to appropriately address something that has been wrong for so long. The unfortunate thing about the debate is that some interest groups have tried to politicise it. All sorts of instant experts have come out of the woodwork, none more notable that Hugh Morgan of Western Mining. He made all sorts of statements about land claims but there was one claim he was not telling us about—that was the greatest claim jumping exercise in Australia's mining history, and he lost. However, regardless of all the politicising and disruptive tactics of some, the government will introduce legislation that will do something genuine about this longstanding and unacceptable situation. I hope that all honourable senators will support such steps.

  Finally, I would like to speak about Australia becoming a republic. This is something I have supported for a long time, not because of any disrespect for our historic links with Britain or the monarchy; rather, I support it for the reasons that it should occur. This country has developed socially to the point where it is necessary for us to become a republic if we are to gain a sense of completeness. For me, it is the only way that a full sense of pride can exist for all of Australia's people. It will be like the completion of a long journey or making the final payment on something one has never owned. Regardless of people's views, I do not think anyone could reject the notion of having an Australian as head of this country.

  Surely the most recent event of Sydney winning the 2000 Olympic Games brings home the importance of having a head of country and, indeed, a flag that would truly be our own. I am sure it would seem odd to other countries that, following our competing against Manchester, England, for the Olympics, we then turn around and have the Queen of England open our Olympics. There are no valid reasons why we should not become a republic. We should get on with the job and instil even greater pride in this great country.

  In closing, I would like to thank my wife, who is here tonight, for the support she has given me and to congratulate her on becoming the first woman to be elected as a state secretary of a union representing workers in the timber industry. I would also like to acknowledge my trade union colleagues who are here tonight and to thank them for travelling so far and for making that effort. I would simply like to say to them, `Keep up the struggle; the workers need you'. Of course, to my two staff members here today, Vicki and Yvette, I thank them for the tolerance they have shown during my preparation of this speech.

  Honourable senators—Hear, hear!

  Debate (on motion by Senator Schacht) adjourned.

  Debate resumed.