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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1615

Mr CARLTON(10.38) —The Opposition will not oppose the bulk of the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill as it brings in a number of measures which will be of considerable value to people who are in difficult circumstances , financial or otherwise, because of handicaps. The increases in benefits are quite substantial. I think it is worth pointing out to the House that the total amount spent on social security in the Budget for 1983-84 is $14,500m, which is 25.6 per cent of total Budget outlays and represents an increase over the last financial year of $2,330m. That is an increase of 19.2 per cent which would, depending on the inflation rate, be a real increase of the order of 10 per cent. I make these remarks not in any parsimonious way but merely to indicate that when the House is generous with taxpayers' money in meeting the needs of the more disadvantaged members of the community it nonetheless has to realise that the costs are very substantial indeed in budgetary terms and that honourable members are taking upon themselves the responsibility to levy those taxes on the working population.

In a time when people are concerned about the impact of taxes, particularly on lower income families-the ones who are in employment-we certainly should not lose sight of the fact that over this financial year they are contributing very substantially in addition to what they contributed last year for the help of the disadvantaged. There are a number of measures here. I will deal purely with the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill. My colleague the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) will speak to the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill; so I will not deal with the aspects of that legislation.

Before moving on to an area in the Bill which mightily displeases the Opposition, I draw attention to one aspect of the outcome of this Bill which is unfortunate in that it affects the balance between rewards for educational purposes and unemployment benefits. I refer to the increasing gap between unemployment benefits and the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance. In the Budget the Government decided in its wisdom to restrict increases in TEAS fairly substantially and in this Bill it increases unemployment benefits in a number of ways. One of the outcomes of those two actions is that there is a widening gap between the money paid to those who are unemployed and the assistance given to those under means and income tests for education. I would like to read to the House a quotation from the present Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan). When speaking in October 1981 which, of course , was well before she took up her present responsibilities, she said:

It seems to us in the Labor Party and I think also to the Australian Democrats that the Government's--

There she is referring to the Fraser Gov- ernment-

strategy of forcing students out of full time study and on to the dole is totally irrational and indefensible....

While ever there is such a disparity between the level of payment available for unemployment benefit and the level of assistance for full time students, students from modest backgrounds will from time to time be forced out of universities and tertiary institutions and on to the dole. How the Government can possibly defend and maintain that system really defies rational understanding.

Those remarks by Senator Ryan in 1981 could easily be applied to the measures which she and her colleagues have introduced in this year's Budget. She said earlier, in May 1981:

I think that while this positive financial incentive to go on the dole exists, the Government's claims that it is really serious about reducing youth unemployment are shown to be absolutely hypocritical. There ought not to be such a positive financial incentive.

I merely put those remarks by Senator Ryan, who is now the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, against the net effect of the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill which makes a number of changes to the unemploynent benefits, all in an upward direction, of course, and against the measures which the Government introduced in the Budget in relation to TEAS. The joint effect of those two sets of measures was very definitely to widen the gap between payments for unemployment and payments for students. On those grounds I think we will apply the Minister's remarks to herself and to the Government and point out, as my colleague Senator Baume has in the Senate, that the Government is acting once again against the sorts of principles it espoused when in opposition.

The aspect of the Bill which really worries us is that relating to the payment of unemployment benefits to people who are put out of work because of strike action. Perhaps I should remind the House, as it is a week since the second reading speech was made, what the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) said in that speech:

This Bill also provides for the modification of the existing rule that disqualifies a trade unionist who is not himself on strike from receiving unemployment benefit if his unemployment is due to other members of his trade union being on strike. The existing rule was introduced in October 1979 and has the effect of discriminating against trade unionists. Under the proposed amendment, a trade unionist will not be disqualified for the purposes of unemployment benefit if the industrial action did not occur at the place where he was employed. With the introduction of this amendment, the rules governing qualification for unemployment benefit in strike situations will be as follows-

(1) direct participants in a strike will not be qualified for benefit.

That is obviously okay. To continue:

(2) members of a striking union at the establishment at which a strike takes place will not be qualified for benefit.

Again that is okay. To continue:

(3) members of other unions at the establishment at which a strike takes place who are not themselves on strike will be qualified for benefit.

There we run into difficulty. To continue:

(4) persons stood down at other establishments as a result of a strike will be qualified for benefit, irrespective of their union membership.

There were very good reasons for bringing in restrictions on payment to people put out of work because of strike action in October 1979. Because of the growing sophistication of the trade union movement in arranging strikes, work bans and various other devices so that the maximum amount of disruption could be brought about with a minimum loss of pay, it was necessary to look at various ways in which on the one hand those going on strike would certainly suffer the full costs to themselves of that action and, on the other, the taxpayer was not being called upon in effect to support the strike action by supporting through unemployment benefits those thrown out of work because of that strike.

One can argue that people who are totally innocent in a situation-this, of course, will be the argument of the Government-who are thrown out of work because of the strike deserve to be paid unemployment benefit. It is no fault of theirs that they are thrown out of work; they belong to a different union. They might believe as a result that they should receive unemployment benefit. That must be weighed against the argument that, if those benefits are available, that would have an effect on the decision-making processes and thoughts of the people calling the strike in the first place. If those who call the strike are not only held responsible for those thrown directly out of work within their union, who because of that feel the pressure of the loss of income on their decision-making processes, but also are made to be concerned, as is the existing rule, about those members of another union thrown out of work as a direct result of their strike action, they will have to be more concerned about the effects of their decisions.

We must be very careful with this new Government, because it is bound under its platform not to remove privileges of the trade union movement which have been built up over a very long time-in fact for most of this century-but to extend those privileges. Some people in this community-I am certainly one of them- believe that the balance of power in these matters has moved very substantially over a period in the direction of the trade union movement. I am one of those who believe that that balance of power has gone too far in that direction. Certainly, I suppose that members of my family during the latter days of the last century and the early days of this century would have been very active in trying to achieve satisfactory justice for workers in Australia. If one reads the early history of the trade union movement and of the labour movement in Australia, one would certainly have enormous sympathy for the struggle of those people to achieve elementary justice and satisfactory bargaining power within the overall community. Legislation, of course, was introduced not only in this country but overseas-certainly in the United Kingdom and the United States of America with whose economies we are very familiar-to bring about at least, people hoped, a balance between the power of organised labour and the power of organised corporate business. That was certainly achieved quite successfully.

Over the years, these powers that have been given to the labour movement have been added to. If one takes a balanced view of the situation in 1983, an objective observer would have to say that the balance has now gone very much the other way and that there are certain privileges which the trade union movement appears to have gained not only under the law but by custom and practice, particularly since the penalties for failure to meet one side of an agreement went by the board. Certainly, it has an immunity not only under the law but also by practice, in a way which gives it a substantial bargaining position. This affects not only those situations which cause grave disruption to community life , but also in the most direct way, as we know, the economy of the whole country. It gets to the heart of organised power in order to extract wages which can be beyond the capacity of the community to pay. The end result of the accretion of decisions of this kind, or arrangements, or bargains which are driven under the imbalance of power that we now have is that we have come to a point at which, when there is a downturn in the economy, we have a very much larger number of unemployed than we had in previous years. I think the House has to examine this whole matter very seriously indeed and it should do it almost de novo. In other words I believe that we should examine from scratch the privileges that are granted to the trade union movement and begin to wonder whether they are really appropriate for the remainder of this century and into our third century as a nation.

Two points have come up recently. One of them is that the Government is moving in the direction of extending privilege to an already over-powerful group. The other one is in possible amendments to the Trade Practices Act. Section 45D was the subject of a question the other day when the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) gave a somewhat unsatisfactory response to a query from this side of the House as to whether there would be an amendment to remove that item from the Trade Practices Act. I am not going to refer to that matter today because it is outside the scope of this Bill. However, I want to put the Government and the House on notice that the Opposition will be watching very carefully and closely indeed any point on which it believes that the Australian Labor Party in accordance with its platform-of course its platform is available to all-seeks to remove even further trade unions from sanctions of the law or to extend privilege in one form or another.

This case is the first clear legislative act in that direction. We are utterly opposed to the conscription of taxpayers, in effect, to provide strike pay. I know that strike pay in this case is not being provided to those who are directly concerned in the union that calls the strike. The overall success of the strike will depend on the extent to which people can be cowed and the community can be held to ransom by the actions of the strikers. If as a result of a strike 100,000 people, for example in an extreme case, are out of work and the union knows that the taxpayer will pick up the bill through the unemployment benefit for those 100,000 people who are not directly in the union concerned, that has a powerful incentive effect on those calling the strike. It is part of their calculation as to their chances of success or otherwise in that strike action.

As I mentioned earlier, we are in a situation in which we are asking the taxpayer to extend the social security bill by 19.2 per cent in one year. A very large part of the $14 1/2 billion being spent on social security is unfortunately being spent on unemployment benefit-unemployment benefit which has been paid out justifiably to people who, in our current economic conditions, are unable to find work. Nobody in this House will try to stop that from happening. Surely we have to ask in times such as these, or at any time, this question: If there is to be any extension of that social security bill should that money be going to people who are thrown out of work purely because of strike action on the part of other workers? Should people who are struggling to meet the weekly and monthly requirements of their families, who are paying high tax, be asked to pay even higher tax, in this case to give those who are calling a strike greater leverage in trying to secure the success of their strike action? I think any reasonable person in the community would have to agree that even if there were a satisfactory case for doing so, to do it at a time such as this, with the Budget deficit we have and with the very large demands we have, and quite legitimate ones, over a very wide range of benefits that have to be increased in this Bill- we are not opposing those, as the Government knows-is not appropriate. Heaven forbid, even if there were a good case, one would surely hesitate to bring in such a measure at this time.

I can only say that we on this side of the House are fearful that the balance of power between organised labour, and organised business and organised government-if one could call it that-has moved unduly in the direction of organised labour. I certainly believe that this is a major factor in the current unemployment situation and in the incapacity of the National Economic Summit Conference to come up with a satisfactory scenario for the reduction of unemployment. Honourable members will recall three scenarios: Scenario A, scenario B and scenario C. Scenario A was favoured by the Government and was to continue with unemployment of the order of 9 per cent over three years. Scenario B, which is actually the one we are getting closer to, given the building industry settlements that appear to be coming through, shows even higher unemployment over three years than we have now. Honourable members will recall that scenario C was a tougher scenario because of the wages part of it. It showed a bit more hope-but not a great deal more-for the reduction of unemployment over three years.

The Government, in its paper to the Summit Conference, said that it was unrealistic for industrial reasons for scenario C to be possible. 'Unrealistic for industrial reasons' is just another set of words for saying that the balance of power within the community between organised labour, and organised business and government is such that it is not possible for our society to decide on a scenario or a set of economic objectives which will lower unemployment within a reasonable period. That, in fact, was what the Summit Conference said-that it was impossible because of these constraints. Instead of going on to question those constraints and to ask what rigidities there were in our society and in our system of wage settlements that were preventing the satisfactory outcome of employment, the Summit settled for the lowest common denominator that was available from those people present from organised business, labour and government. It settled for a scenario which held out very dismal prospects indeed for the unemployed.

To follow that up with this measure is to reinforce that unfortunate paragraph in the supporting statement to the Summit and to indicate that the Government not only accepts that it is largely helpless in the face of organised labour to take a determined action against high unemployment but also seeks in this legislation to extend those privileges and that power. I think that is a dreadful thing for the Government to do. I think that if the Government proceeds also to amend the Trade Practices Act in the same way, and if it proceeds beyond that in line with the accord and with the industrial relations platform of the Australian Labor Party, which calls for the removal of even more sanctions and legal constraints on trade unions, it will be pursuing a course which will be absolute disaster for the unemployed in Australia.

So in a Bill whose general purpose is to be compassionate-indeed, most of it is , it is carefully drafted in a whole lot of ways which are quite beneficial to those who are least able to help themselves-this particular part is a blot on the whole framework. Indeed, it is a measure which will have the effect of increasing the dependence on the unemployment benefit, on which we are spending so much money and about which, of course, the community is really so desperately concerned.

The Opposition will not vote against the second reading of this Bill but during the Committee stage it will seek to amend the Bill to remove that sub-clause which reintroduces this privilege for the trade union movement. I return to the words of the Minister in his second reading speech. This is the Hawkespeak aspect of it:

The existing rule was introduced in October 1979 and has the effect of discriminating against trade unionists

Surely that is turning words upside down. There is some concern about amendments . We will actually be voting against a clause.

Mr Holding —We are not moving an amendment.

Mr CARLTON —We are not moving amendments. I am sorry. There was some alarm amongst the top table about that.

Mr SPEAKER —We do have some problems with procedures at times.

Mr Ruddock —Like the reference to the top table.

Mr CARLTON —Well, that is what it is. On a Wednesday we can refer to these things. What I am concerned about is that if we adopt the phraseology used by the Government, we begin to argue the case on the trade unionists' terms. In fact, that is how almost the whole of our industrial relations debate is conducted. It is conducted in a kind of language which turns life upside down. In this case, the Fraser Government's move to remove unemployment benefits from people put out of work because of strikes is called discriminating against unionists. In fact, the purpose of the measure was to prevent discrimination against taxpayers and against the community. The effects of the strike action are two-fold: First, disruption and, secondly, the economic effect. The effect of the strike action will push wages beyond what a market would pay and what the community can indeed effect-

Mr Holding —Unionists are taxpayers too.

Mr CARLTON —The Minister mentions that unionists are taxpayers. Indeed, they are . Any market opinion surveys that are conducted of unionists as to their real views about these matters-the Minister will be aware of Dr Rawson's research on this matter; it is all published-have surprising outcomes when we ask unionists what they really believe about the power of trade unions and whether they think it is too great. We find that the majority of people, even those who are members of unions linked with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, in the Rawson studies indicated that they have very great doubts about the extension of those powers. I am quoting from the actual figures. I have not got them with me so I cannot quote them in percentage terms, but all that research material is available. Analyses of votes by trade unionists in the recent election in the United Kingdom, have shown how many votes went to the Social Democrats and the Conservatives. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom was getting about a third of the trade union vote.

So there is a lot of questioning within the trade union movement amongst the general membership about these directions. The people who are organising the strikes, organising the unions and the people appearing before the tribunals and all those who are part of the club are the ones who use this kind of language; they are the people who try to be guileless on the television every night as to the merits of their case. When we have governments using this kind of language- saying it is discriminating against trade unionists to pay unemployment benefits in this particular case-we have to make it absolutely clear that we stand for consumers and taxpayers. Of course, many of those people are trade unionists. We believe that rank and file trade unionists would support us in this action. Certainly those in a particular area and in a particular case in the short term might be very concerned about not being able to apply for unemployment benefits. We believe anybody looking at this matter from an overall point of view as to their medium and long term self-interest would certainly agree with the arguments we are putting up.

We will not be voting against the second reading of the Bill. We support the generous but necessary provisions of the Bill for those most in need. We are concerned about the increasing gap between unemployment benefits, education allowances and the tertiary education assistance scheme allowances that have come out of this Budget.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind honourable members that it is not the practice to consult across the aisle with advisers in the boxes. There is a proper procedure . It has been happening on both sides of the chamber. I do not want it to continue. The proper way is for the honourable member to leave the seat and consult. I call the honourable member for Mackellar.

Mr CARLTON —We will, in Committee, be voting against the particular clause that relates to the unemployment benefit being paid to those who are affected by strike action.