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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3315


Senator HOGG(6.01 p.m.) —Madam President, democracy is founded on the principle of mutual respect and on the expectation of reciprocal dignity. This building and this chamber are designed and built to enhance the dignity of parliament and to express respect for the institutions and processes of our democracy.

But dignity is neither the preserve nor the reward of office. Rather, it is the duty of office, because it is the fundamental right of every person to be treated with dignity, whoever and wherever they may be, throughout the three phases of our lives: firstly, in our youth; secondly, in our work; and, thirdly, in our retirement. To strive to do anything else, is to suffer from delusions of self-grandeur.

The need to have dignity and to be treated with dignity is the special element that sets us apart from all the other species on this planet. We are something special and, as such, should treat ourselves and our fellow humans in a way which gives dignity. Dignity is not a commodity to be bought, sold or traded. It is an inalienable right. Unfortunately today, too much time, effort, energy and money seems to be devoted to stripping away dignity rather than maintaining or enhancing it. It is for this very reason that I became involved with the pursuit of social justice in both the trade union and political arena—to do what I can to maintain and enhance the dignity of people.

My particular focus has been to help those less fortunate than I. Whilst I came from humble surrounds, foremost in the ethos of my parents was the impeccable value of helping and serving others. I have inherited that ethos.

In reflecting on the great changes and advances made in our society over the last 200 years, one factor remains constant—the need for the dignity of people. There were two industrial revolutions which I wish to briefly refer to that have profoundly affected humanity. The first was in the early 1800s. It was a time of dramatic change. It saw: one, a greater rate of wealth creation than at any other time; two, the nature of work and the way it was done changed forever; and, three, the organisation of society changed.

None of this was or is intrinsically bad. The creation of wealth logically precedes its redistribution. However, out of this era emerged the development of a social conscience to redress the abuses that had surfaced as a result of the enormous change. The social conscience sought to give dignity to those who were most vulnerable to the rigours of a system not of their making—that is, the workers.

The trade union movement emerged as the principal force to upgrade and improve the quality of life for the vast majority who found themselves exposed. It saw the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. But for the intervention of the trade union movement, there would have been no redistribution of wealth. Dignity was never achieved for all, but we had proceeded a long way down the path of achieving the goal of dignity for all.

The second industrial revolution was in the 1960s. There we saw the invention of the microchip, which has changed the face of life. Again, it saw: one, a greater rate of wealth creation than at any other time; two, the nature of work and the way it was done changed forever; and, three, the organisation of society changed. Again, none of this by itself was or is intrinsically bad. However, the social conscience was or became confused; the principal force for equality, the trade union movement, has or is under relentless pressure to roll over and die or be eliminated; and there is now a re-distribution of wealth the other way, from the poor to the rich.

The economic rationalist rhetoric of today has blurred people's judgement as to what constitutes dignity or how it can be achieved anymore. The constant factor though remains the need to give people their dignity. Pivotal to this whole concept of dignity is the need to work and to be paid a meaningful wage for that work.

The computer era has radically changed the concept of work from what we once knew. No longer can the models of work that applied in the pre-1960s or pre-1800s have any place or relevance. Hence, it is sad today to still see people trying to apply those models to today's world.

Whilst the rhetoric which went with those models may well sound good and warm to some—hard work never hurt anyone—it is certainly no solace to those who cannot achieve the first step to dignity: meaningful work. This is simply because the work is not there for everyone to access. There is no greater challenge that we as a society have to deal with than the issue of unemployment. Servile work, pretend jobs or work for the dole schemes do nothing to alleviate the mental and social anguish felt by the unemployed.

The unfettered growth of technology, without any concern for the impact on humans and their lifestyle, shows how contemptuous our society has become of the dignity of people. Why, whales, trees, and koalas are treated with greater concern than many humans. It is my view that, unless our society can change its view on what is work, we are headed down the path of social cataclysm.

Essentially, the issues to be addressed are these. What is going to constitute work? On what basis are jobs to be allocated? And how are jobs going to be created? Skills, training, and work organisation must be addressed. Well-structured training programs and education curricula are essential to ensure that meaningful work is available to all. Full-time employment must re-emerge as the linchpin of employment. Maybe caution will have to be thrown to the wind and full-time employment be recognised as something substantially less than 38 hours per week with rates of pay equivalent to our current weekly rates being paid.

Part-time and casual jobs have stripped many workers of their dignity. More part-time and casual jobs are not the solution to unemployment. Under-employment is as great a curse as unemployment is. Some gurus have tried to popularise job sharing over the last decade as a means of masking the problems of unemployment. Invariably, those who have actively promoted job sharing have been the last to share their own job. Whilst this form of work may have been attractive to a few, for the vast majority it has been a slow way of condemning them to poverty.

Of late, a more pleasant face has been given to stripping people of their dignity. It is now called downsizing. Downsizing has no logic to it other than lining the pockets of its perpetrators with gains in windfall profits made from share price gains as the all-powerful market counts as good news the loss of some person's job. Everyone seems to be downsizing. The only ones not being downsized are those who have the power and control and quite blindly subscribe to this callous and insidious practice because it does not hurt them; it benefits them.

No matter how one dresses things up, the result is always the same: people have lost their jobs, their dignity. I know that, without meaningful work, people are deprived of their dignity and stand condemned to poverty and despair.

It disgusts me the way our world outwardly comes forth with pious platitudes about the horrors of unemployment or under-employment but, furtively, in the background, proceeds down the path of doing everything possible to satisfy the motive of greed. We, as a society, stand condemned for the way we treat the dignity of our fellow humans.

The second component of dignity is the right to a meaningful wage. Over the last 200 years, this has been the key element for the worker to get a share of the massive wealth that has been created. Both industrial revolutions have been typified by the enormous creation of wealth.

There have been, and are, a limited number of ways to achieve a share of the wealth created in our society. The first is that you can rob. The second is that you can inherit. The third is by chance or lottery. The fourth is that you can run your own business. And the fifth is that you work for a wage. It is the last option that covers most of us. It is through the mechanism of meaningful work and a meaningful wage that most of us achieve our share of the wealth being created in our society. The wealth created does not just trickle down. In that time, as wages and conditions were improved, so the wealth was redistributed from the rich to the poor.

The disturbing fact now, both nationally and internationally, is that this trend continues to be reversed. This reversal is being driven by the forces of conservatism seeking to reverse the wealth redistribution of the last 200 years. Wages and conditions have been universally attacked in the name of competition, profit, productivity or international trade. Any excuse to reverse the distribution of wealth is used. And the sufferers—those on the receiving end—have been, and will continue to be, the ordinary workers.

Driving wage outcomes down for low income workers is no way of providing them with a path to achieving their dignity. In recent times, we have seen CEO wages in the corporate world blow out to between 25 to 100 times the wage of the base worker. Twenty-five years ago, this was a one to three ratio. This widening gap is not sustainable in the long term. It simply breeds envy, contempt and hatred.

Whilst some people might take a short-term kick in the guts by suffering pay cuts for some trumped-up reasons, I have no doubt that they will not stand condemned to long-term poverty, as some economic rationalists are trying to achieve. Low income and single income earners need, and are morally entitled to, a fair share of the wealth being created. Their dignity cannot be achieved by a trickle-down effect. It will not be achieved by paternalistic handouts.

Hand in hand with wages is the need for a fair family support scheme and a preferential treatment tax-wise for low income and single income earners. For, if these people are disadvantaged, the poverty trap closes and their dignity is denied. In a related matter, the ability to work and earn a meaningful wage should lend itself to the person being able to be adequately superannuated to enable them to live their retirement with dignity. For not to do so is a fundamental breach of humanity.

It is morally wrong to say that the strong can have dignity in youth, at work and in retirement whilst the weak have to fend for themselves as best they can. If that is the approach to life, and I believe it is for many people today, then I believe we have not come very far at all. The focus needs to get back to the fundamental of the dignity of people. If our society is to advance, then it needs to address the issues of technology, taxation, superannuation and family support collectively to fulfil the basic need of the human to be able to achieve their dignity. I believe this is the challenge before me in this place.

But in many ways it is no different from the challenges I have faced as a trade union official with the SDA for the last 20 years—15 as the Queensland branch secretary. It is in that respect that I must acknowledge the counsel and leadership of Jim Maher, the former National President of the SDA. Jim imparted to me over that time much wisdom and an enthusiasm for helping the shop assistants we represented. I am proud to be associated with an organisation that has as its focus the welfare and wellbeing of low income and single income families.

It was Jim Maher, Joe De Bruyn and my Queensland predecessor, the late Wally Major, who first gave me the opportunity to serve the members of the SDA. I thank them for the chance to serve SDA members. I thank the SDA and my colleagues, including Senator Bishop, for their supporting me in my role now as a senator.

The SDA fought for: one, wage justice for low income earners; two, security in employment; and, three, tax justice—the biggest tax cuts for the lowest paid. It opposed both major political parties on the introduction of a consumption tax or GST, and constantly fought for improvement to family allowances and the introduction of a homemakers allowance. But the essence was fighting for low income workers and still remains that way.

I wish to acknowledge the support of my Queensland political colleagues who have supported my move to the Senate, especially Bill Ludwig, Con Sciacca, Jim Elder, Wayne Swan and Mike Kaiser. I pay a special tribute to my late parents who presented me with the principles and values of life and who gave me such a clear understanding of what dignity was about and how to fight for it. Family support was not far away, with the counsel and wisdom of my sister Mary.

The importance of family has translated into my later life where I now have the support and encouragement to pursue my interest in my fellow humans from my wife Sue and children Stephen, Elizabeth and Louise. Without their support and understanding, my task would be impossible. So it is with great personal and family pride that I stand here in the Senate.

When I sought preselection in my party, I made it clear that my interests were one, a preferential option for the poor; two, solidarity with the poor; three, seeing that the common wealth was shared; and, four, seeing that things should be done for the common good. Those who are well-heeled, in positions of power or otherwise advantaged have little or nothing to worry about. Those people can take care of themselves. The people that I am concerned about are those who are poor, who do not have any power or are otherwise disadvantaged.

I shall work through the avenues of my party and through this Senate to focus on the right of the individual to their dignity by being given meaningful work and meaningful pay. I hope I am able to raise the status of people above that of some mere pawn in a production line or something as disposable as a tissue. I will fight for dignity in youth, in work and   in retirement.


Honourable senators —Hear, hear!


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Before I call Senator Gibbs, I remind honourable senators that this is her first speech and, therefore, I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to her.