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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2566

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - We have gone from the actual needs of the community to what industry can afford to pay. In this clause who will determine what is the public interest? What section of the public will take the dominant role in determining the sectional interest? It has been said that a functional point in public interest is to protect the weak against the strong, the strongest in this case being the employers and the Government. We are in this Bill establishing the basis of revolt against the arbitration system, for it establishes a system whereby wages will be frozen at governmental will, making the wages struggle even more the part of politics than it Ls now. But before the revolt occurs, out of sheer frustration at their inability to establish procedures satisfactory to the mass, a lot of workers' money will have been spent in taking points of dispute to courts in an attempt to dissolve and to challenge the meaning and intent of clauses in this Bill. This will do nothing for industrial peace. But on the performance of the Government, if of course the public continues to tolerate it and leave it in power, this Government will again legislate to change the situation to suit that of the employers at any particular point of time.

Who are the employers which this legislation is aimed to assist? In the main they are overseas based companies, shipping and cargo handling companies and investment, companies whose profits have been enormous and will continue to increase in what will become a comparatively wage controlled area with no control on profit margins. This legislation should be establishing a basis of conciliation, not arbitral dictation, which it does. In fact, it brings about a situation in which, by a low wage structure based on 'public interest' objections, or lengthened hours in the 'public interest" in industries such as the Public Service, public transport, hospitals and other essential service industries, this plea will be used to subsidise industry, to control the wage cost structure, to escape the cost to the Government or, as they would say, restrict the cost to the community, the taxpayer, but in so doing we create another section in the poverty area. Strangely enough to work in essential government or semigovernment services has always meant and still does mean a low wage structure. In fact the minimum wage with small margins is more the rule than the exception in that area. The over award payment is usually obtained from the high profit industries.

Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.

Mr BENNETT - Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner we were speaking about public interest and the effect of over award payments which had been given to those industries which could afford them, quite often for very good reasons such as lack of safety or uncomfortable or insecure working conditions. Because of this the Government has typically over-reacted in the matter and has become carried away by its own propaganda. But let us look at the public interest. I say that it might well be in the public interest to withdraw this legislation, if we are looking at it from one viewpoint of public interest. Let us look at the pastoral award, under which the wage for a worker is $42.50 a week. Yet if a pastoral worker who has a wife and 2 children stops work and goes on to unemployment benefits, he receives $43 a week, a gain of 50c.

If the Department were doing its job, the anomalies would be pointed out to the Minister, and no doubt he would rectify the situation. But how will this Bill be applied when this area comes under scrutiny and the pastoralists plead poverty stemming from the effects of Government mismanagement which is being felt by all pastoralists? Indeed they have said that. Now that they are losing the assistance of the low wage structure for Aboriginal workers, who should be paid an adequate pastoral award wage but who are not receiving one yet, what has the Minister done to enforce the award payments in this area? What prosecutions and enforcements have taken place? Will he say that it is not in the public interest to act? What happens when the Minister relinquishes his portfolio and another interpretation is placed on the meaning of the section by another Minister who may decide, for instance, that it is in the public interest to refuse all wage increases. That could well be the view of a future Minister. 1 say another Minister' because this Minister is supporting an increase for commissioners of $4,000 a year, retrospective to when that increase was refused by the Parliament, so he is in part supporting increases for the upper levels but not for the actual productive worker.

The public interest is in effect a sectional interest decided on by who is in power. It is a sectional viewpoint that does not have the benefit of a majority decision by referendum or vote of any sort. It will be determined by the educational and financial background of the person deciding it. It does nothing for the individual worker or his dependants who are directly affected by the decision which is made against what may have been proven to be a just claim in every other way. On the evidence submitted a claim could be completely proven in every aspect, but the allowance of the concept of outside or public interest could then lead to the suppression of the claim. The Minister might say: 'If these people are not satisfied in that employment, let them find some other avenue by which to earn a living or, in the extreme, go on unemployment benefits.' We all know that the old concept of the Australian home with the wife always there to rear the family in dignity and comfort on the one adequate wage is a thing of the past. Today, to have any standard at all, both husband and wife must work. This has happened only during the last 23 years of Liberal Government rule. By wage freezing and hours freezing, which are the intent of this legislation, the situation will be perpetuated - so much so that until some governmental action is taken to make the family unit what it was, what people fought and died for in 2 world wars - the fundamental bastion of our society - the family will become embroiled in some of the most bitter industrial disputes just to obtain enough income to suffice in our modern community. Even in a man's unemployment benefit the family unit is means tested on the earnings of the wife.

We urgently need new thinking and a new approach to wage fixing and fringe entitlements and costs borne by the worker on the lower income scale if we are to have industrial peace. Justice not only needs to be done but needs to be done in such a way that every man, and woman in the community at large understands what is being done. Where else in the field cf human relations can one find so much legislative mumbo-jumbo and impediment to human understanding and friendship as is placed in the hands of people who create a career out of what has become the industrial battlefield. This clause increases the legal ammunition which must be paid for by the community in disputes of a technical nature. I would be more impressed, as I feel the community would be, if no profit whatsoever were to be made in the taking of industrial cases by those who have a vested interest in causing the dispute and subsequent delay in payment of the wage increases. If the legislation lessened the possibility of litigation by making payments retrospective to the date of application, with an over-riding interest payment on the money withheld for that period, we would be able to say that some genuine attempt was being made to speed up finalisation of disputes and the avoidance of them. But to continue in the manner in which we are proceeding is a farce.

I appreciate that the Minister admits his inability to bring in adequate price control legislation. The Government says that it is beyond its ability to legislate in an adequate manner to control prices and profits, and I concede its failure. On the other hand, what gives the Government the temerity to imagine that it can be any more successful with industrial legislation which is in effect a price and production control. Of course, this legislation is doomed to failure. If the Government wants success in the field of industrial legislation, it will need to make imaginative new departures such as the setting up of an all party committee so that it can at least obtain some basic understanding of the problems and not rely entirely on its preconceived ideas to legislate. But any legislation which in itself allows outside intervention of a third party, after the 2 parties directly concerned have agreed, to change that decision in the interests of other people, sets dangerous precedents - precedents which other people will see and use at a later stage much to the discomfort of the existing government. It is not too late for rational thinking and the withdrawal of this legislation in the public interest to take place.

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