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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1172

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Treasurer) - The Government does not stand by on this issue which has immense ramifications for the wellbeing of this country. Whatever may be said today to be the policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Australian Labor Party - whichever is chosen for the purpose of the day - the fact remains that the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), who led for the Opposition in this debate, is recorded quite clearly as addressing members of the Vehi cle Builders Employees Federation in these terms: 'The policy of the Labor Party in government would be to make available to the unions all the resources of the Department of Labour and National Service; it would intervene in all cases before arbitration tribunals for the purpose of achieving a 35-hour week in industry'.

The Government believes that it is not right for a government to stand by and allow the issue to be fought out between powerful unions and the employers. The combination of the powerful unions, of course, usually renders them far more powerful than an individual employer. The Government believes that, wherever it can, it should intervene for the purpose of putting before the tribunal concerned and before the public the public's own interest, because it is the duty of the government to make sure that the public interest is heard in these matters.

I believe that the key to this issue is responsibility. The Government is determined to act responsibly in this matter and will continue to do so. This statement has been made today so that the issues may be raised with the Australian people. If responsibility is the key to this issue, then it is against that criterion that we can measure the Australian Labor Party policies in the broad, because this is a criterion. The Australian Labor Party has no responsibility whatsoever on this issue. If it has none on this issue, how can the people of Australia put any reliance upon any policies which it may enunciate for the purpose of appealing to people?

The honourable member for Hindmarsh, who led for the Opposition in this debate today, made a speech which did not do him credit because of the manner in which it was delivered. However, he gave 2 reasons - 2 reasons only - why the 35-hour week should be introduced. His reasons were these: Firstly, it would increase job opportunities and, secondly, it would increase the quality of life by leisure. As to the first reason, a method of increasing job opportunities is to enable people to be trained more adequately for the jobs that are available so that they can create a greater productivity effort in this country. The individual man, well-trained, does not work harder to increase productivity; he works more efficiently by reason of better management. There has been a great reluctance on the part of the trade union movement in the past to share in Increased job opportunities among workers in industry by enabling them to get better training.

As to the second point made by the honourable gentleman - the increase in the quality of life by leisure - I assure him that there are many ways in which the quality of life is improved other than by leisure. For instance, the quality of life is improved very greatly if there is an increase in income in Teal terms and not merely in money terms. There is an increase in quality of life for pensioners if inflation does not erode the increase. There is an increase in the quality of life for the fixed income earner if inflation does not erode the increase. And so one can go through the list of people whose quality of life is improved and who are looking for this improvement.

There was no mention by the honourable member for Hindmarsh or those members of the Opposition who followed him in this debate of any grand design for Australia's future. There was no mention of the policies which they had been speaking about at every opportunity or of trying to reconcile the achievement of those policies with the inflation which a 35-hour week would induce and with the reduction of standards of living which a 35-hour week would induce. Indeed, the honourable member for Hindmarsh, after failing to justify a 35-hour week in any way or putting up any contrary arguments, went to extraordinary lengths to put up a straw doll to knock down. He said that if there were a reversion to a 48-hour week there would be 900,000 unemployed. Has anybody heard that put as a proposition? Only a man with an imagination such as that of the honourable member for Hindmarsh could put forward such a proposition.

There is economic cost in a 35-hour week. The economic cost would be a reduction in material standards and increased inflation. I believe that Australians understand this when it is explained. Many of them already understand it. That is why so many of them are opposed to a 35-hour week. They are not prepared to suffer decreased material standards and increased inflation for the sake of marginally increased leisure. A threat was implied in what the honourable member for Hindmarsh said today. He talked about 10 weeks annual leave. Is that the next claim to be made by the Australian Labor Party and by the powerful unions? He certainly spent some time talking about it. We cannot be precise as to the costs which would flow from a 35-hour week, but we do know that they would be very great. The average hours worked today are 38.4. To reduce that figure to 35 hours means a 9 per cent reduction. That is not arguable. It is mathematically certain. The cost which would be induced by that reduction would be equal, just to put it in some measure, to all the Government spending this year on social services and repatriation. That would be the cost of a reduction in working hours to that level. If there is this reduction it will mean less production, and as the living standard of a country depends on the goods and services produced and as there will be a 9 per cent reduction in the goods and services produced there will be a 9 per cent reduction in the standard of living of this community. It is as clear as day. Nobody has talked about any reduction in wages, and I certainly do not want to hear of that; but if the 35-hour week came in and wages remained the same it follows that costs would not go down, production would. Costs would remain the same and prices would go up. So there would not only be a reduction in production but also an increase in prices which is the joint cause of inflation and the loss of material standards.

Imagine the work force of this community having a wage cut of 9 per cent right across the board. How would it react to that? Inflation would occur, production would go down and unit costs and prices would go up. There would no doubt be attempts to maintain production by working overtime, and that sounds a reasonable proposition. But it so happens that if production were maintained by working more overtime, inflationary pressures would be even worse because overtime is a more expensive cost of production than standard rates. The result would be that prices would not go up by 9 per cent or 10 per cent but by 12 per cent or 15 per cent. This would be disastrous at a time when we are battling inflation. We managed to get inflation down from 7 per cent in the 1971 calendar year to 6.1 per cent in the year that ended on 30th June last. Those who would suffer from the inflation are those who are retired, those on fixed incomes and pensioners. Savings, superannuation payments or entitlements and insurance policies yet to mature would be reduced in value. It would be a crippling blow to the people concerned. The powerful unions are trying to advantage themselves at the expense of the community.

It was said today that my Party represents big business. It does not, as it turns out, because the details of electoral spending are clear. What are my Party's funds compared with the Labor Party's funds. The Labor Party is spending all this money on trying to build a charisma for the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). The Opposition is a party spawned by the Unions and still controlled and owned by the unions. The unions will provide all the money that will be spent on beautifying the Leader of the Opposition. It was said by Opposition speakers that there were no dire effects on the economy when the standard working week was reduced from 44 to 40 hours. I have no complaints about the 40-hour week - do not misunderstand me - but one cannot rewrite 1948 history in 1972. The statistics are there and speak for themselves. In 1948 and 1949 we had inflation of 10 per cent in this country, the worst inflation rate in our history, so do not pretend that reducing the hours of work will not have the same effect now. For a current example of the impact of a reduced working week let us look at the stevedoring industry, which under an agreement signed on 28th April had a reduction in working hours from 40 to 35. Within a week of the signing, port handling charges went up 40 per cent while in February there had already been an increase of 30 per cent to 40 per cent in charges. Increases in port handling charges mean increased prices of goods in every supermarket and small store. In container depots only last week, and within 3 weeks of a decision granting a 35-hour week, container depot charges increased by 15 to 25 per cent.

The Australian Labor Party says that it has a selective approach. That is an interesting proposition. Is it going to create an aristocracy withing the working class? Is this class warfare? Will it have an aris tocrat in the vehicle building industry and a peasant in the railway industry? Of course the Labor Party does not mean that. It cannot mean it, and it would not get away with it if it did. What it means is that comparative wage justice and conditions will spread and it is unreal and deceptive to talk about a selective approach. The whole idea of the approach is to pick on the areas which can least resist so that it will spread across the entire work force.

Let us look now at the case of a motor body builder first class who is on a standard award rate of $68 a week. He is in the area of workers who the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) said should have a 35-hour week. He said that if in government the Labor Party would do everything it could to give it to them. If the hours of work of this motor body builder were reduced from 40 to 35 and his overtime increased by 5 hours a week, his award earnings would be about $82 a week. Compare this 20 per cent to 21 per cent increase for that worker with the wage of a fitter and turner in the shipbuilding industry who would work 40 hours a week but would stay on $69 a week. Is there any equity in that? Has the Labor Party any real concern for equity and justice in the work force?

As a nation we have far to go and we have much to do in areas such as education, health, welfare and the development of human and natural resources. We have pockets of poverty to eliminate and we have the standard of living of this nation to advance continually. On this basis the Liberal-Country Party coalition Government will take every opportunity it can to put the facts before the Australian people and to resist this proposal which can result only in a reduction in standards of living and increased infllation to a crippling degree which will affect the unprotected in the community. We will not resile from that duty; we will pursue it at all times. For if the Opposition has no commitment to the development of this country, the Government most certainly has.

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