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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2562

Dr SOLOMON - I do not believe that the honourable members for Corio (Mr Scholes), Sydney (Mr Cope) and Hawker (Mr Jacobi) should be allowed to get away entirely with their arguments. In particular, my honourable friend from Corio put some of the worst arguments by analogy which it has been my misfortune to hear. At the same time I concede that a good deal of what the honourable member for Hawker in particular had to say was persuasive and even tenable because he was concerned about a situation where he can point to various groups in the community, particularly those on the higher levels of income who do not appear, on the face of it, to be subject to the test of public interest. He can say with justification perhaps that those at the lower end of the economic scale subject to decisions which affect the mass of workers are the ones who are being singled out for bringing in the question of public interest. That may appear to be so but it is not as much so as he thinks it is. The reason for it is this: In a great deal of legislation, in a great deal of adjudication and judgments made by public service boards or bodies other than the Commission about which we are talking here, there is an implied public interest to be considered. There is not only one public interest as can be readily seen. The public interest would not be well served if university teachers, for example, were paid a wage or salary which was not comparable with that which they could get overseas because if that situation applied we would very likely find the sort of migration which created the much talked about brain drain from the United Kingdom where people qualified to do a particular job were going somewhere else because they were offered competitive salaries on an international basis. So there are other checks and balances in other areas, particularly where they impinge on international situations, that one does not find at this level because of the lack of competitiveness.

I was nearly howled down last week, if I may say so, because I pointed out the simple fact that the sort of judgments we are talking about tonight usually affect hundreds of thousands of wage earners and, in that sense, are more important. These judgments, even though the per capita amount granted may be less than honourable members opposite would like to see - and members of this side would like to see - have an aggregate effect that is of considerable proportions. If we turn to some other area of the economy, to wage earners in occupations where a few hundred or a few thousand are involved, such as our arbitration commissioners, and give a substantial increase, the total effect on the economy is very small. Honourable members opposite were not prepared to accept that as realism last week, but this in fact is what dictates the situation. Competitive ability obviously is different at different levels and whether members opposite want that to be so or not with all their talk of equality in such areas as education the situation will not change for their saying so. It must be recognised on the question of public interest per se that this is so. I agree, and I would be stupid to do otherwise, that this is not an easy area to define. But the fact is that the honourable members opposite do not want to define anything they can possibly leave aside. We saw this last week in relation to clause 8 when members opposite were not prepared to recognise that some people would be in good community standing. They asked what that meant and sought examples. Members of the Opposition want to run away from this sort of thing. I submit that it is possible in a particular context, at a particular time and in a certain judgment to define what is the public interest. I have alluded, as have the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) to judgments which could be made which would be contrary to the public interest. Even though it may be a little galling I admit this, because some other areas of operation apparently are not subject to public interest. Because the words are not written in, it does not mean that the public interest is not being taken into account.

I would agree that there is plenty of argument to say that public interest per se should be looked to in other matters but there is no need to get absolutely wild about the situation when the public interest is referred to specifically in this case. In fact if one thinks about any degree of distance from this area at all, a good deal of our social legislation, if not the whole lot, implies public interest. You are not allowed to knock people off in the street because it is contrary to the public interest. You are not allowed to have a violent demonstration insofar as people can control you because it is not in the public interest. The fact that the particular forms of legislation do not use the words 'in the public interest' does not mean that the public interest is not being served by the legislation. I believe that these things should be taken on board when in fact honourable members opposite find themselves as adamantly opposed to this form of words as they appear to bc in this debate now. I believe, in short, that the public interest can be judged in a particular context. It is true that there may be various judgments about it but surely this is what Government, arbitration and all these sorts of things are about - making judgments as to which particular interest should best be served at a particular time.

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