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Thursday, 28 August 1980
Page: 971

Mr HUMPHREYS (Griffith) -I want to express my deep concern at the stubborn refusal of the Government to take positive action to end the strike by coal miners in central Queensland over the proposal to tax their subsidised housing. This strike is a matter of deep principle to the miners. As the Deputy Premier of Queensland said today, it is a matter of mere legal interpretation for the Fraser Government. But most of all, it is a disaster for the State of Queensland, a significant loss of revenue to the national Government and a serious threat to coal users. One is forced to the conclusion that this Government is prolonging the strike for reasons which it is not prepared to admit. For that sort of shabby exercise, it is responsible for losses so far of $400m, including a total of nearly $40m revenue lost by the Queensland Government. Obviously, in a State Budget, that sort of money presents very serious difficulties.

The Fraser Government has made only one apparent gesture towards a resolution of this dispute. That was the decision, announced in the Budget, to set up an inquiry into changes in income tax zone allowances. According to the Treasurer (Mr Howard), a review of zone allowances might be expected to offer a compromise that would satisfy the miners. I believe that proposition is nonsense, if only because there is no natural relationship between the two subjects. I am glad to say that I am supported in that view by no less an authority than the Treasury.I have had the opportunity to study a confidential briefing paper prepared for the Government by the Treasury for use at the last Premiers Conference in June. This document states quite flatly:

A substantial increase in zone allowances is unlikely to relieve pressures for higher wages and better conditions. The unions are more likely to pocket the allowances and go on pushing.

That is the Treasury's view of the so-called compromise the Government is offering. I am not necessarily endorsing the Treasury's view of zone allowances. Quite clearly, it does not like them as they are now, let alone as they might be after changes for the benefit of workers in remote areas. The Treasury describes the allowances as follows:

The zone allowances are essentially subsidies which serve to shelter residents of the zone areas against the economic and financial consequences of their decisions. For employers, they enable a transfer to the public purse of some part of labour costs (including the cost of fringe benefits).

In other words, the Treasury regards the zone allowances as a mechanism that already transfers part of the cost of subsidised housing on to the community at large. Where does that leave the Government's claim that it, rather than the miners, is defending an important principle?

The juggling of zone allowances is not going to end this disastrous strike. On the basis of this document, I think it is clear that the Government does not expect that it will end the strike. Since we still have not been informed what the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry will be, I find it hard to believe that the Government is taking its own proposal seriously. Its attitude in this issue is as rigid now as it was $400m ago, and it is time this

Parliament demanded effective steps to resolve the issue. I believe, and the Labor Party believes, that the men and women working in this remote area, in mines and on other development projects, on farms and in isolated towns are entitled to the benefit they have traditionally received by way of subsidised housing. This Government's meanminded attempts to deny that traditional benefit will be condemned by most Australians. Even if the Government forces its will on the families affected, it will be many years before the revenue from extra tax catches up with that being lost in this disastrous strike. The Fraser Government is sponsoring an exercise in futility and it is time it was called upon to account.

Mr James - Mr Deputy Speaker--

Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

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