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Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 2304

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Housing) - The raising of the matter of public importance this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is particularly sordid. One does not need to be a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing. Acting merely as a politician, the Leader of the Opposition, knowing that concern about poverty has been expressed by a number of churchmen in Sydney, decided to cash in on the circumstances at his command whatever wind that concern might generate. In the time that is available to me I want to make one or two comments that are appropriate. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who regards himself as the shadow Minister for Social Services and Health, tried to denigrate Australia's performance in social services compared with that of the rest of the world. The fact is, no matter at what time it is examined, that over a period Australia's measurable level of poverty has been significantly less than that in almost any other comparable country.

Unlike countries that have Labor governments - particularly the former British Labour government, from whom the Australian Labor Party takes so many of its principles - the proportion of households in Australia on the poverty level has not increased. That is a very important distinction. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) indicated some time ago, the islands of poverty have become smaller but we acknowledge that the islands are there. The honourable member for Oxley spoke at some length about those who are on very low wages and who therefore are closer to a poverty level than are men on average wages or men on above average wages. I will make a charge concerning this which it will be impossible to refute: Nobody has beenless concerned with the men on the minimum wage than the honourable member's colleague on the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party, namely, the leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Hawke. Continually from 1969 the minimum wage worker has been deliberately sacrificed by Federal Executive members.

I want to make one or two quotes which are friendly but pertinent. In 1970, in presenting the case to the Arbitration Commission, the advocate chosen by Mr

Hawke to represent the workers of Australia was severely castigated by the presiding judge who said:

We riad it hard to see how future benches can continue to give him special treatment in the absence of more information such as the actual living standard*, of people on or near the minimum wage, how many there are, how many would be affected by any future claim and what effect the introduction of minimum wage has had generally in industry.

The honourable member's fellow Federal Executive members ignored the minimum wage worker. In October 1971 - the month may not be quite correct - they were castigated for not having prepared at that stage any data concerning an appropriate submission to the Arbitration Commission for the minimum wage worker. So that attitude persisted. Honourable members will recollect that during the time that data concerning the minimum wage worker should have been presented his fellow Federal Executive member was travelling overseas while Australia was subjected to political strikes such as the Springbok strike.

Now we come to 1972. This matter of public importance was raised by people who say that they are concerned about poverty and about the minimum wage workers. They dwelt on this subject. One approprite paragraph from the judgment of the Commission needs repeating. The presiding judge. Mr Justice Moore, said:

As to the minimum wage in 1970 the Commission was obviously in difficulty in assessing an appropriate amount as it had little information before it of the problems of the low wage earner, the average cos* of living or the numbers involved.

Consistently from 1969, when the philosophy of the ACTU as presented by its leadership has been more closely associated with the philosophy on industrial matters presented by the Opposition, the minimum wage worker in Australia has deliberately been sacrificed by those who seek to represent him. This charge cannot be refuted. The low wage earner immediately became cannon fodder in some political game. I have just one or two other comments to make. It is a favourite tactic of the Leader of the Opposition to conduct his politics after the overseas tour of acupuncture. He thinks that by putting a pin in a vital spot he can deaden the nerves to those parts which need to be sensitised. It is my task this afternoon to sensitise one or two areas. How does one show a concern for poverty when one has a policy of political strikes? How is it done? How does one redistribute income and wealth and resources if there is no production? There is still a basic equation in an economy and the basic equation is that there are no resources to redistribute if nothing is produced. No country which has made itself subject to political strikes has ever had a decent attack on poverty.

Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has one or two things to answer for today. We remember very well the strikes which were promoted over the Budget before last. This was his own economic moratorium. That nerve needed to be sensitised. The nerve concerning the position of the low wage earner, who has been sacrificed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for 3 years and who has been sacrificed by the political representatives associated with the Party opposite for 2 years, needs to be sensitised in order to be clarified. Then for one or two moments we heard concern for the aged. We know that more always needs to be done for the aged who need assistance, but we know also that the increase in the pension in real terms has been greater proportionately and absolutely over the past 13 or 14 months than ever before in Australia's history. But there is no acknowledgement of this. Then, and this is the strangest of all, we heard from honourable members opposite a concern for the young or, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, some concern about infancy. I hesitate to mention it, but in so many ways the suggestion was that the problems concerning the young should be dealt with by seeing that they are not there. Eliminate the problem; do not attack it. That is not the Government's attitude and it will never be its attitude.

Finally, the Leader of the Opposition dealt for one or two moments with Canada. Trudeau still exerts that strange influence on the Leader of the Opposition. This Government would never emulate Canada in its attitude of unemployment, destitution and to variable and wholly unacceptable living standards, but the Leader of the Opposition retains the proposition that Canada for him is the exemplar. When will we in this place come across an attitude that does not seek continually to rubbish Australia? As the Minister for Social Services indicated earlier every attempt is made to rubbish Australia and its performance. I can say only that knowing that the Leader of the Opposition's political approach is one of acupuncture, we will not let him get away with it, no matter where he puts the pin. The Leader of the Opposition has a rather strange, wholly mystical but understandable Chinese treatment for the social welfare policies of this nation.

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