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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 304

Mr BURR(4.55) —In speaking in this debate about the National Economic Summit Conference held earlier this year and analysing some of the papers that have been produced as a result of it, it seems to me that the Conference was a mixture of a blatant political exercise coupled with an excuse for a grog up at the taxpayer's expense. I will come to that matter a little later. I would like to open my address by objecting, in the strongest possible terms as a member of the House of Representatives, to this chamber being used for this type of exercise. This chamber is the forum of the people of Australia to be represented by the representatives they elect to this national Parliament. It is not to be debased by this type of political exercise by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) who has obviously no respect for the institution of parliament and no understanding of what parliamentary procedure is all about. I will read from the Prime Minister's opening address to the Conference. He said:

For in a very real sense, we meet here today as the representatives of the Australian people, in a time of Australia's gravest economic crisis in 50 years.

That collection of people did not make up the representatives of the people of Australia. The people who were elected at the election of 5 March represent the people of Australia. This Prime Minister was using this chamber for blatant political purposes. The Prime Minister continued:

So it is entirely fitting that this Conference should assemble in the House of Representatives in the national capital.

I dispute that. It is not fitting that that Conference should have assembled in the House of Representatives. We are the people elected to sit in this chamber, not people who are drawn together as mates of the Prime Minister. He went on to say:

So we meet not only as the representatives of our respective governments and organisations, but also as the representatives of the Australian people.

This man has no understanding of democracy and certainly no respect for parliamentary procedure and the parliamentary institution. I object to this chamber being used in that fashion.

Having voiced my opinion, I say that we, on this side of the House, are concerned that there should be consensus. We are concerned to see bodies of people from different sections of the economy talking together. It was for that very reason that the Fraser Government introduced the National Labour Consultative Council. This Summit Conference was not a new initiative by the recently elected Prime Minister. The previous government had a summit conference in 1976. It is unfortunate that honourable members opposite do not understand the importance of that body and the work it has been doing over the years.

I have accused the Prime Minister of using the Summit Conference for blatant political reasons. It seemed to me that it was something of a surprise for the Prime Minister that he won the 5 March election. I do not believe the Prime Minister really thought he would win that election. But having won it, the central theme to his whole election campaign was the so-called prices and wages accord with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The Prime Minister knew that if the Government were to survive and have any credibility at all, that accord had to be upheld. But he had no confidence at all that he could carry the trade union movement with him. He knew that it would not co-operate in wage restraint. I believe that it was for that reason, and that reason alone, that he called this Summit Conference together in Canberra. He wanted the views of the business community to be reinforced on the trade union representatives, that in order for the Australian economy to recover there must be wage restraint. Wage restraint, as in the prices and wages accord, is the central theme that came out of that Economic Summit. It was done purposely to reinforce the policy of the Australian Labor Party. That is fine. We all know that there has to be wage restraint. That was summarised right through the communique that finally came out as a result of the Summit Conference. I will quote parts of the communique in the Prime Minister's own words:

I would point out again that all at the Summit agreed that if a centralised system of wage fixing is to work, there must be an abstention from sectional claims except in special and extraordinary circumstances. Let me say that my Government's interpretation of what constitutes such circumstances is the common -sense interpretation and leaves no room for selfish claims from Maverick sections of the trade union movement.

We agree with him. He goes on:

Central to the conclusions of the Summit was the recognition that the degree of restraint exercised in expectations and claims is absolutely vital to Australia' s prosects of recovery.

We do not dispute that. We know that. We have been saying that for quite some time. We are delighted that the Summit Conference came about. Thankfully some very astute business people were represented at that Summit Conference who could put forward some logic in economic planning to the trade union representatives. What has come out of it? What has happened as a result?

Mr Hodgman —Nothing.

Mr BURR —I am sorry, I will have to dispute that with the honourable member for Denison. Some things have happened. I will quote to honourable members some things that have happened by way of wage restraint. These include the Heinz case , with a resultant $16 a week increase; workers in the building industry averaging increases of between $15 and $20 a week; and Altona Petrochemical Co. Ltd, referred to by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), where there has been a $17 a week increase. Now we have the doosey of them all; that is, a strike by the oil rig workers on the Bass Strait oil fields. They are going on strike for an increase of $100 a week. This is the sort of consensus and constraint that is coming from the union movement despite the appeals from the Prime Minister through the Economic Summit and through the election campaign with its wages and prices accord. This is the response that we are getting from the trade union movement.

It is clear that the Prime Minister has no better relationship with the trade union movement than any other member of this Parliament and certainly not as good a relationship with it as the previous Prime Minister, Mr Fraser. The Prime Minister preaches to the Australian people that he has some special relationship with the trade union movement, but the trade union movement treats him with utter contempt. The Prime Minister knows full well who the powerful figures are in the trade union movement. I instance Mr Norm Gallagher. The Prime Minister knows the influence that that gentleman has on the whole trade union movement. The Prime Minister was so concerned to get him here that I think he picked him up at the gates of Pentridge Prison to bring him directly to the Summit Conference. That is how important Mr Gallagher was.

Mr Fisher —He threw a ladder over.

Mr BURR —I do not dispute the interjection made by the honourable member for Mallee. Perhaps he did, but he was very concerned to have Mr Gallagher at this Conference and he brought him directly here from Pentridge Prison so that he could be represented. Yet we get this sort of response from Mr Gallagher. Wage increases in the building industry have been averaging $15 to $20 a week. Quite clearly the Prime Minister has absolutely no control whatsoever over the trade union movement. It is an absolute myth that he has been trying to preach to the people of Australia that he does have some special relationship.

One other thing that concerns me about the Summit Conference has been the sheer cost. Perhaps some of the honourable members on the other side of this chamber might prefer to ignore the cost of that Conference. Quite frankly, I was not here. I do not know what went on. I did not experience it, but I do know, as a result of cost at the taxpayer's expense, that it must have been a magnificent party.

Mr Robert Brown —How does it compare with CHOGM?

Mr BURR —Let me quote to the honourable member that the total cost of entertainment for the Conference was $46,215.07.

Mr Hodgman —How much?

Mr BURR —I repeat, for the benefit of the honourable member for Denison, that it was $46,215.07. That is the bill the Government ran up in four days. Let me just give honourable members a breakdown of where that $46,000 of the taxpayer's money went. The liquor charges for the Summit Conference were as follows: Monday , $818.56; Tuesday, $942.24; Wednesday, $957.86; and on Thursday-the cost was going up all the time; they must have been having a beaut old time-it was $2,018 .87. I imagine that is what the participants had for lunch.

I am sure honourable members are interested in the real doozey of them all-the wind-up party. Oh boy, oh boy, I wish I had been at that one. The Prime Minister 's hospitality for the final party at the Economic Summit Conference for 320 persons was $36,411.85. For the benefit of the honourable members opposite I repeat that a total of $36,411.85 of taxpayer's money was used for a nosh-up at the end of the Conference for 320 persons. Liquor worth $113.78 was drunk by each person during the wind up party. All that was at the taxpayers' expense. I notice that my honourable friend from Hunter is very silent. But it did not finish there. We have not heard the last of it yet. The delegates had a beaut party that night. The next day, delivered to the Cabinet room-again charged to the Summit Conference-was one bottle of vodka, one bottle of scotch, one bottle of brandy, three bottles of Tyrrell's claret and-here is the doozey of them all- one packet of disprin. I am surprised that they did not need a carton of disprin . I can understand why they needed the disprin after going through all that grog .

On a serious note, I accuse the Prime Minister of using this particular conference not only for political purposes but also to try to make a big name for himself and reinforce his position within the Australian Labor Party by bringing people together, at the expense of the taxpayers of this country, for blatant political purposes. The Opposition agrees that the idea of talking together is beaut. We fully endorse that idea. But we cannot see this done for blatant political purposes by the Australian Labor Party. What it was trying to do and what the Prime Minister is still desperate to do is uphold that prices and wages accord which the Prime Minister can now see falling down round his ears. If he wants to present policies to the Australian people during an election campaign that are totally unworkable that is his business. He has to wear the odium of doing that. But I cannot justify his using taxpayers' money to try to uphold policies that he knows are totally unworkable.

Let me say simply in closing that honourable members on this side of the House support the concept of an economic summit conference. We support the concept of representatives from business, unions and governments getting together for this type of discussion. From my point of view I strongly dispute that that Summit Conference, or any future conference or summit, should be held in the House of Representatives chamber. Plenty of other locations around Australia are available. I am quite sure that we in Tasmania can find suitable conference rooms for any future conference. But I cannot justify the Prime Minister using that conference at the taxpayers' expense, particularly with such heavy expenses as I have explained, for the purpose of trying to bolster up his policies that he knows are not workable.

Mr Ian Cameron —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I would like to make the point that this House should not be used for any purpose other than the sitting of the House of Representatives. I intend taking this matter up with Mr Speaker.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member knows that that is not a point of order.

Mr Ian Cameron —Mr Deputy Speaker, I believe that it is a point of order. This House should not be used for any purpose other than the sitting of the House of Representatives.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I rule that there is no point of order. I ask the honourable member to resume his seat.