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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2568


Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) - I want to amplify the comments I made before dinner with regard to a number of matters. In particular, it is quite clear that the Government is systematically trying to unload onto the arbitration system as a sort of economic whipping boy the responsibilities for its own sins of economic commission and omission. The Government has shown a consistent incapacity to deal with inflation, but it has chosen in particular to try to off-load the full responsibility on to the wages system. The catchcry is raised - it is almost like some witch's chorus - that in all cases it is a matter of wages being raised first and then prices following. The position is exactly the opposite.


Mr Buchanan - Hear, hear!


Mr CONNOR - The position is exactly the opposite - the interjection notwithstanding - because with the system of delays and frustrations that are inherent in the present over-legalised system of arbitration it follows that automatically it is not possible for wages to do other than follow prices. This myth has been sedulously cultivated and the Government in political terms stands or falls by it. Hence it is determined at all costs to assume complete control of the arbitration system and in so doing, as I said earlier, it will destroy it. On the question of the submissions that are made by the Government, I want to quote from an address given by Mr Hince, who is a senior lecturer in economics at the Melbourne University. His remarks have been published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. They are vital in considering the question of public interest. He said:

The Government intervenes in the 'public interest' and presents material and argument in a brief prepared within government departments and presented by legal counsel. The presentation of material in open court, with the publicity which surrounds national wage cases, has apparently caused some considerable concern for the Government in recent years. In the 1960 hearing the Commonwealth brief did state reasonably categorically, with detailed reasons that no wage increase should be granted. Subsequently, many commentators linked this categoric assertion of the Commonwealth view on wage increases to the near defeat of the Government in the following elections. Whether this view is correct or not, it is noticeable that the Government brief in subsequent national wage cases has been less assertive and limited, in the main, to presenting general information and statistical material relating to the state of the economy. The Commonwealth has refrained from making positive submissions about the quantum of wage increases which it considers the Commission should award.

The adoption of this position by the Commonwealth reached, in my opinion, the limits of absurdity in the 1966 hearing. In this case Mr Kerr, Q.C., appearing as Senior Counsel for the Commonwealth, indicated that they, the Commonwealth, favoured a moderate increase in wages, but declined to elaborate on what was meant by moderate wage increases. Mr Justice Wright, presiding at the hearing, made rather pointed comments about the adoption of this particular tactic by the Commonwealth. Mr Justice Wright suggested that this type of submission, in effect, placed the full onus on the Commission to fit in with Government economic policy with regard to prices, productivity and wages, without the Commission being privy to Government thinking about the desirable level of wage increases. In this judgment, which was part of the majority judgment, Mr Justice Wright said:

The Commonwealth shrank from the tasks of estimation, contenting itself with a suggestion for a 'moderate' increase but counselling against a 'large' increase; such suggestions are just meaningless to one who is under an obligation to reduce his reasoning to terms of currency.

However, the Commonwealth has continued to follow the pattern which emerged after the 1960 hearing. In the 1968 'National Wage Case' hearing, the Commonwealth ignored the stricture of Mr Justice Wright and suggested that Government policy favoured a small but not a moderate or large increase.

This book was published in November 1969. That tactic has been continued and it will be intensified. We will have the spectacle of the Government striding into court - in much the same way as King Charles I, 3 centuries ago, strode into the House of Commons - saying: 'This is what we want.' The resentment that will be built up then will make an undoubted contribution to industrial hatred and turmoil for generations. In quite another field I want to refer to the impact of tertiary industry on industrial productivity. I quote from an article by Mr T. M. Fitzgerald published in the 'Nation' on 13th November 1971. He had this to say:

The disturbing elements in the last Consumer Price Index were not due to increases in manufacturing prices but in tertiary-sector items - in fact, Government charges, especially transport and hospitals . . . The tertiary sector is the growing one in our economy and with the decline of rural employment it is on the way towards absorbing two-thirds of the work force. (Within this sector, the split is roughly sixty private employment to forty government employment, so that the absolute numbers of privately employed in the tertiary sector is about SO per cent greater than the number of manufacturing employees.) . . . But it seems that our economic thinking and policy-making have failed to catch up with the realities of the new pattern of activity and to draw inferences from it. To quote a phrase of some economists, the tertiary services are by nature 'unprogressive', in the sense that their performance in productivity growth seems generally to be low by comparison with manufacturing (measurement is difficult).

That is the very thing the Government seizes on to speak in terms of a drop in productivity. That is the very principle that the Government chooses to enshrine in the proposed section 31. This Government is fundamentally dishonest in its whole approach to the matter of wage fixation. Irrespective of its future inability for the remainder of its term in office, it is determined at all costs not merely to freeze wages but also to keep wages lagging further behind than ever. Inflation is starting to gallop. This Government is prepared, between now and polling day, to attempt to buy its way with political offers of electoral largesse. In the process of so doing it will make a further contribution to the inflation which it is unable to control. The proposed section is dishonest. It is the major section. It is the most vital one and it is the most obnoxious one in the whole of this legislation. It is one that we will oppose here not only in this Parliament but also on the hustings.







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