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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2565

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - These proposed new sections now under discussion, irrespective of what Government supporters say, are nothing more than wage freeze provisions. The Minister is on record as having recently referred to women in the work force as being insignificant. He knows as well as his Government knows that there is going to be a greater percentage of females employed in future. He knows that if anybody wants to attain an acceptable standard of living and a decent quality of life, disregarding the monetary factor for the moment and the number of persons in a family who have become earners or working units, the only way in which young people in a community can afford to overcome the 1,000 per cent increase in the cost of land in many of our cities and suburbs throughout the nation is for both of them to contract to work.

Let us deal with the term 'the public interest'. I have heard no cry from this Government nor has anybody else in the Parliament against the 22 per cent price increase by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd for its steel products in just 12 short months. If this Government wants to define the public interest' so far as industrial disputes are concerned and so far as wages are concerned, if it wants a plain honest definition and not one from the group of eggheads to which the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) referred earlier, just assess the fact that wage and salary earners and their dependants in this country represent in excess of 90 per cent of the people. Is that not right? We heard the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) say that you should not grant a wage increase to this sector, or to bring it down to a lesser number, the people employed in the automotive industry, numbering about 30,000 and those employed in support industries again numbering about 30,000, because overall they are getting too much. But when it comes to 57 tall poppies in the Public Service and they are given $250,000 to share, that is all right. That is in the public interest says the honourable member for Denison. He is evidently of the opinion that he will get knocked off at the next election, to use his own term, when he will want to go back as an employee of the University of Tasmania. He wants to protect his own personal interest. That is the way that a lot of people would look at it in their own areas. What is 'the public interest' in an exercise like this? No doubt it is some after-thought of the Government.

The proposed new sections under discussion constitute a direct wage freeze - they will limit wages and conditions of work. If we take the Commonwealth as being the protectors of the public interest, God help the public because in this Bill there is mention of annual leave and long service leave. The Commonwealth Government has not seen fit to increase annual leave for its employees - and I can see the honourable member for Moreton anticipating what I am going to say - since Federation or in 72 years. So if anybody considers that a member of the public can expect to get some benefit from this Government he had better think again.

I want to say something about the rights of people to negotiate and the rights of people to agree. I want to draw attention to statements made by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) in regard to waterside workers' agreement. I should like the honourable member to tell me where, as a result of wage increases, freight rates have increased. I should like him to relate those to the tremendous freight increases that have occurred when there has been no movement in the wage sector at all, either at sea or ashore, and little movement in costs for wharfage and so on. He might be able to convince me but I do not think he will. He will see that freight increases do not necessarily follow wage increases. If production is the key factor miners ought to be getting 5 times their present wages on the production figures given to us by the honourable member for Cunningham today. If there are only one-fifth the number of miners employed in coal mines today as compared with 15 or 20 years ago, and they are producing 10 times as much coal, assessing it on the basis of productivity why should they not receive more pay? The Government does not want that.

Government supporters, especially legal eagles, have never supported wage increases or improvements in conditions. They merely carry out their function by voting for the matter before the House to restrict those benefits. If the Minister were to cast his mind back to the system that operated in relation to the gigantic undertaking just south of the Australian Capital Territory, the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, he would recall that that scheme existed for the whole of its life on the basis of negotiation and not necessarily on the basis that the parties were directed to accept the decision of a panel of judges who are quite removed from the industrial scene and have no contact with it whatever.

I should like the Minister to tell us when the Pull Bench of the Commission took it upon itself to have a really close look at what is happening in industry today. I should like the Commission to look at the broad spectrum of industry and at the provision of the Bill that says it will have direct control over the remuneration of wage and salary earners in this country. Will the judges take into consideration reports such as we have seen in the past 48 hours from the University of Melbourne in regard to poverty in Australia as it affects wage earners in the community and people who live below the poverty line? Will the judges of this country inspect those conditions before arriving at a decision that might be fair and in the public interest? Of course not, and the Minister knows they will not. So, why is this legislation before the House? ls it to appease a minority party in the Senate? ls it to buy preference votes?

I might ask: Is it in the public interest for us to have the conflict we have seen in the past 48 hours between the coalition parties - the Country Party and the Liberal Party - before a particular report on the wool industry becomes available? ls this not merely petty party politics? Government supporters are concerned only that they should be re-elected every 3 years. They do not give a damn about proper and responsible government. Is it in the public interest that during the recess uranium deposits to our north will be signed away to foreign interests? Do Government supporters think that someone should ask these questions and be entitled to a proper answer? Of course not. It does not come within the Government's realm of narrow, overshadowed party politics. Is it in the public interest that in the past 2 days 5 Ministers have attacked a decision of one of the members of the front bench? Is the Government concerned about that? Was it in the public interest that the Government squandered $500m on the Fill aeroplanes? Has anyone asked that question?

Is it in the public interest that young married men who have been forced into the Army must live in the fringe areas of various cities because adequate and proper housing is not provided for them? All the issues which the Government, with its narrow political point of view, believes to be in the public interest are contained, though hidden, in the clauses of this Bill which will give extremely wide powers to a group of people whom 1 consider have never been in touch with the public other than on the university campus in their younger days when they were studying law. I the Bill on that basis. I do not think it is reasonable or necessary. If time would permit 1 would quote to the Minister many of the statements he has made to his own political party and coming from his own secretariat in the past few weeks and just prior to Christmas. It would not make any difference whether this Bill is carried or not. I have no doubt it will be because it will be merely a numbers game.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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