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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1207

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I want to continue my remarks with respect to the secrecy of the Cabinet and the political dishonesty of some Cabinet Ministers. As I mentioned before we have seen this tendency developing in recent years. This afternoon we had a debate on the 35- bour week. If ever there was a subject which has been abused by Cabinet Ministers who know fully the true facts of this matter, it is that of the 35-hour week. We see the Minister for Trade and Industry and the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) attempting to make political cap ital throughout the nation and in the Parliament by stating by inference that a Labor government would introduce, across the board, a 35-hour week. This is false. The sad part about this is that the Minister, who is a member of Cabinet, knows that it is false, and this is what I call political dishonesty.

The Federal Parliament, a Labor government or any other Federal government does not have the jurisdiction to introduce shorter or longer working hours, except in the small number of cases which relate to Commonwealth public servants or the Parliament itself. Sixty per cent of the work force in Australia work under State awards, and these people do not come under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In Queensland alone 73 per cent of the work force work under State awards. These awards have nothing to do with the Federal Government or the Commonealth Arbitration Commission. It is a matter for the State Government to determine whether the people who come under these awards will work a shorter or a longer working week. But it is political dishonesty for Cabinet Ministers to attempt to secure some type of political advantage by making statements which imply that a Labor government will introduce a shorter working week. Australian Labor Party policy has been made quite clear by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). If a particular industry makes an application to the Arbitration Commission for a 35-hour week and, after thorough investigation, a Labor government will support it if it is convinced that this shorter week is justified, but if it is not convinced that it would be in the best interests of the nation, it will not support it.

Mr Kelly - Will it oppose it?

Dr PATTERSON - It will not support it; it will oppose it if it is not justified. That is clear. I have said it time and time again, and so has the honourable member for Hindmarsh who is Labor's spokesman on labour affairs.

Mr Wentworth - Are you being quite frank about this?

Dr PATTERSON - What do you mean? Let me make the point quite clear. First of all, it is not a matter for the Federal Parliament; it is not a matter for a Federal government; it is a matter for the Arbitration Commission to which particular unions, under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Commission, can present their case. The case having been presented, a Labor government would then make a decision either to support it or not to support it. This attitude has been expressed by the honourable member for Hindmarsh time and time again. What is the policy of the Country Party or the Liberal Party on this matter? The Australian Labor Party certainly has a policy on it. It has had this policy ever since the Labor Party was established. Our policy is to try to get the best possible working conditions in the rural areas of Australia and the city areas of Australia, and it is a policy of which we are proud.

But what is the policy of the Country Party or the Liberal Party on the 35-hour week? Both Government parties have said that they will oppose completely the introduction of a 35-hour week. Surely we. can deduce from that that they support a longer working week. Apparently this is their policy; they would like to see everybody in Australia working many more hours a day. The Labor Party has stated its policy, but let it not deliberately be misinterpreted by Cabinet Ministers. Let them state, the facts. Let them give the people of Australia the facts instead of trying deliberately to misinterpret, to distort the policies of the Labor Party in regard to a 35-hour week. While debating the estimates for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, let me say that we have seen the same sort of political dishonesty in relation to wheat sales to China. How many times in this House and outside the House have we seen Country Party Ministers trying to blame me and the Labor Party for the. loss of wheat sales to China.

Mr King - That is right.

Dr PATTERSON - You would not know the first thing about it. One fact in relation to wheat sales to China is that in 1964 this Government deliberately stood oyer the Australian Wheat Board and directed that the Wheat Board pass a note to Chinese authorities, thus introducing politics into the wheat trade. Australia lost the wheat trade with China after Canada recognised China, but we will regain it and we will regain it very quickly under a Labor government. I consider the Government's actions to be political dishonesty. We have seen this sort of thing happen in other industries. In recent days we saw it happen in the sugar industry. When I came back from China last year I stated quite categorically in this Parliament and outside the Parliament that I believed that the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd would sell sugar to China.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cope) - Order! I think the honourable member is a little bit wide of the estimates before the Committee. We are dealing with the estimates of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and you are talking about trade matters. I do not think this is of relevance to the Department of the Prime Minister.

Dr PATTERSON - I am saying that when I made, that statement Cabinet Ministers ridiculed it, and now by strange coincidence trade in sugar is being developed with China. Cabinet Ministers are accusing me of attempting to wreck our sugar trade with China. Have honourable members ever heard such humbug and rubbish? We have to make quite certain that politics do not enter into the sugar negotiations and that the Cabinet Ministers speak the truth and state the facts. They must allow the Queensland Sugar Board through the CSR company to conduct their operations with China completely free from dishonest politics. If we do this we will be able to establish an excellent sugar trade between the 2 countries. But we have heard Cabinet Ministers making these fallacious statements.

During my first period in this debate I spoke on Cabinet secrecy. Some honourable members will recall that when I entered this Parliament I had all sorts of problems. Just after I became a member my office in Parliament House was raided by persons unknown to me. From memory I think 6 valuable files containing a lot of evidence that I had and I needed, as well as some reports which I also needed, were stolen. Never yet have I seen a report of this incident, despite the fact that it was raised in the Parliament and despite the fact that it was investigated by Mr Speaker. What I am saying is that this secrecy of the Cabinet is something to be deplored. I think that in the interests of good government and democracy in Australia the government of the day has to get away from this absurd obsession with secrecy and let the people of Australia know more about what is happening in the country. This is particularly so with respect to Cabinet decisions, which should not be kept secret. I am not saying that all decisions should be made public and have to be justified - far from it - but certainly some of them should.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cope) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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