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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1167

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Minister for Trade and Industry) - The debate this afternoon has been useful in that it has clearly illustrated what the Australian Labor Party's policy is. It is to pursue the objective of a 35-hour week. It shelters behind the Constitution in saying that the Parliament cannot legislatively introduce a 35-hour week, but it makes it quite obvious that it will pursue the matter in any way possible to make it a reality. I would like to see the 35-hour week campaign retitled so the people know what it is. It should be called a campaign to reduce spending power. It is the Labor Party's failure to understand the impact of shorter hours that makes it necessary for the Government to try to explain the situation to the Australian people. None of those who are suggesting a 35-hour week, however fine the motives they put forward, are suggesting that people should get less than 40 hours pay for it. If people are to work 35 hours for 40 hours pay they will find, broadly speaking, that when they want to buy something worth $35 they will have to pay $40 to get it. Whenever the worker, the housewife or the farmer wants something that takes 35 hours work to produce he or she will have to pay the value of 40 hours work to get it.

That is really what the Government has been saying when it has pointed, out that a 35-hour week would add from $2, 500m to in excess of $3,000m to the national wages bill. That $2,500m plus will not come from any fairy godmother; it will come from the people of Australia. It works out at about $200 each, or about $800 for an average family. Everyone will contribute. People will not be asked whether they would like to contribute. They will simply find that prices have gone up. They will have to contribute, some a bit more, some a bit less, on the average $200 a year for each person. This is what the unions and the Labor Party are intent apparently to thrust on the Australian people.

The only explanation I can think of is that the Labor Party completely misunderstands what is in the national and the community interest. When we look at some of the statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) on tariffs and on the value of the Australian dollar, we can understand Labor's misunderstanding of the implications of a 35-hour week. Are the national interests and the community interest best served by pushing up costs, by increasing the cost of living, by making our exports dearer and less competitive on overseas markets, by raising the spending power of the workers' weekly pay packet? Is it in the interests of Australians to add to the costs of local government so that rates are even more of a burden than they are now? Do we want food prices to go up even faster? Do we want the cost of building homes pushed up at a faster rate? Or are the national and community interests better served by people who are responsible enough to take the unpopular course of speaking out against the things which would lead to a worsening of the individual's economic position? I think that this misunderstanding by the trade unions and the Labor Party of the national and community interest, that is the interest of all Australians, represents a betrayal of those who have supported them over the year, and I think it is Labor's misunderstanding of this whole question which has made it very clear that it does not like being picked up and having its policies exposed.

I made a statement in Perth a few weeks ago and I think it is important that I repeat it now, because the versions presented by the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) have not been accurate. I said that our efforts and our hopes to make significant progress in curtailing inflation have been seriously jeopardised by a strategically planned attack on industry by organised labour. I said that this attack was apparently aimed initially at forcing a 35-hour week on highly capital intensive industries in which labour costs might be small in relation to total costs. I pointed out that many of the industries on which his attack was being made were capital intensive industries dominated by international corporations. I said - and I make no apology for it - "The Government will be looking to these corporations to resist the demand for a 35-hour week'. Australians as a whole will see the response of these corporations as a real test of how much they are concerned about the welfare and the stability of the Australian economy and the Australian community.

This statement brought an hysterical reaction from the Labor Party, as it is waken ing some of its ranks now. Its supporters accused me of all sorts of things. They accused me of selling out the Australian worker and they demanded that I resign. I did not resign. But on the next night 1 made another speech in which I commented on the Labor Party's reaction. 1 repeat now what I said then because I believe it puts into a few words the heart of the whole question. I said that I had been attacked because I had drawn to the attention of the Australian public a campaign by the Labor Party and by trade unions that was against the national interest and against the interests of the Australian people. It seems to me that the very real tragedy in this is that it is not just a campaign; the Labor Party and the unions cannot see or will not admit the damage they can do to the living standards of people they say they represent. This is the core of the argument. It is very clear that the Government sees the national interest and the interest of the Australian people differently from the way the Labor Party sees them. Inflation is the most serious problem this country faces. If the Australian people are consistently to seek higher pay for less work, living standards will suffer. (Quorum formed.) The calling of a quorum is a tactic to try to stifle what I am saying. If the Australian people are consistently to seek higher pay rates for less work, and if they are to demand pay increases in excess of productivity increases, the standard of living will not be improved; it will be damaged. We are not doing the wage earner any service at all by encouraging him continually to seek higher pay or to press for shorter hours when all it will do is undermine his standard of living, push costs up and up and reduce the volume of goods his pay packet can buy.

When we speak out in this way against a 35-hour week we are not trying to set employers against employees. We are trying to protect the interests of the employee. We are trying to dissuade him from being taken in by the illusion or mirage of change which he thinks will be good for him but which really can do him only harm. Some people may be quite happy to make a bargain to work 35 hours a week and to accept the fact that the money in their pay packets will not go as far as it now does, but they should have it made quite clear that this is the bargain. It is the task of a responsible government to make clear to everyone the 2 sides of the bargain.

Most Australians enjoy the standard of living that this country provides. Most of them want to raise that standard of living through better social services, greater development and more of the good things of life for themselves and their children. They are prepared to work 40 hours a week or even a little longer to achieve those results. I think that the Labor Party underestimates the Australian people when it seeks popularity by talking of reducing working hours. The Labor Party misunderstands the needs of the Australian people and its responsibility to them when it proclaims the 35-hour week as a policy objective. When people say that the real aim of the 35-hour week is more leisure they should remember that if they get that leisure it will be achieved at the cost of a corresponding cut in spending power. They will find themselves no better off. They will get the shorter working week at the cost of damage to the economy of this country which, when selling its products, has to compete with overseas countries.

It is hard, of course, to determine the exact impact of a 35-hour week in particular areas, but it is clear that the problems raised by shorter working hours will extend throughout primary industry, secondary industry and various service industries, as well as to consumers, and particularly to people on fixed incomes. In some ways people engaged in primary industries are in the same position as pensioners and other people on fixed incomes. They have minimum scope to influence their incomes. The incomes of farmers are largely set in overseas markets. They are unable to pass on higher costs and this alone can mean a fall in their living standards as prices rise.

Primary producers are in a worse position than other people in that their income is not their cash receipts but what is left after they have paid their costs of production. If costs rise and export prices remain the same the actual cash income of primary producers will be lower. The introduction of a 35-hour working week or the reduction of all weekly working hours by five would have a drastic effect on the farming community. If, for example, the standard working week were reduced by 5 hours throughout the com munity a substantial increase in costs could be expected. About 80 per cent of a farmer's production costs represent purchases from the non-farm sector of items such as fertilisers, transportation, equipment and so on.

As has already been indicated in what I have said and in what my colleagues have said in this debate, the introduction of reduced working hours would have significant effects on the costs of farmers. Unit labour costs on the farm would also rise. Industries which sell their products on export markets are unlikely to be able to pass on increased costs without loss of sales. On the domestic market, any increase in prices could serve to reduce the consumption of farm products although with some farm products consumers will be forced to absorb price increases which result from increased farm costs.

For the rural sector as a whole, taking into account the possible impact on costs and returns, a reduction of 5 hours in the standard working week could reduce the aggregate farm income by as much as $200m, or a reduction of 20 per cent on last year's figure. As much as $200m less could flow into country communities which are already finding the going less than easy. This would create an impossible social and economic situation for rural communities as against other sections of the community. This is of course an estimate based on a number of assumptions and it is possible that it could be altered by such factors as the phasing in of a shorter week over- a period of years or the constraint of wage rises over that period. To expect this attitude to wages seems to be not to face up to the realities of life.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbett)Order!The Minister's time has expired.

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