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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1629

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(12.04) —in reply-I would first like to thank the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock), the honourable member for Grey (Mr O' Neil), the honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher), the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) and the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay ) for their valuable contributions to this debate. I particularly refer to the contributions of the honourable member for Grey, the honourable member for Lowe, the honourable member for the Northern Territory and the honourable member for Herbert, whose important contributions to this debate indicate the extent of their continuing and important contribution to the formulation of government policy-not merely in the Parliament but within the Government itself. To no little extent the positive measures contained in this legislation are a tribute to the hard work of all those honourable members. It is important that that contribution is recognised in the Parliament because it deals with these important issues, not merely in terms of theory but in terms of the very real and continuing needs of people in the electorates of honourable members. On behalf of the Government, I publicly and thankfully acknowledge their contributions.

I suppose that if one were listening to this Parliament and its debates over the last two days one would think that we were a discordant assembly. One of the better aspects of this debate is, of course, the very large measure of agreement that exists between the Opposition and the Government on this legislation. I think it is probably not a bad thing on those occasions when there is agreement for the contributions and the attitudes of the Opposition on these important matters of social benefit to be noted and acknowledged. The honourable member for Mackellar, I think, made two essential points in his contribution to the debate. One was his concern about the differentials that are growing between tertiary education assistance scheme payments and unemployment benefit. I think that point ought to be acknowledged. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan). His other point however contained, I think, a substantial philosophic difference. As the honourable member will be moving an amendment in respect of this matter, I feel that I should enable him to have the benefit of having the Government's position more fully explained so that he might deal with it in the Committee stage of the debate.

The honourable member for Mackellar began-I suppose in some ways, having regard to his history, it was not necessary for him to do so-by suggesting that he publicly acknowledged that in the history of the trade union movement and its development in Australia there were many strikes which were both necessary and justified in order to advance the overall social and economic position of members of the trade union movement. I accept that viewpoint of the honourable member for Mackellar, but I am bound to say that if one looks at the history books containing the history of the trade union movement and of the political forces which in this House are represented by the honourable member for Mackellar one will see that not once have those forces ever acknowledged that a contemporary strike was a justified strike. Not once during the period in which the honourable member for Mackellar was a distinguished member of the Fraser Government was there an industrial dispute in which any small amount of merit could be discovered by the honourable member for Mackellar. I think that point ought to be noted, not abrasively, but in terms of the general philosophic position of the Opposition.

The doctrine that the Opposition is seeking to defend by way of the amendment it proposes to move has no real history in the industrial relations of Australia ; that is, the concept that if a trade unionist finds himself unemployed not as a result of any decision that he has made or of any action that he has taken, he ought to be entitled, like any other Australian citizen, to unemployment benefit . The notion that that unionist and his family ought to be disadvantaged has no real history in the industrial legislation of this nation. It was essentially a Fraserian concept. It emerged out of the attitude of the previous Prime Minister , whose attitude towards the trade union movement-everyone knows it, and it coloured the entire approach of his government-was that every strike was unconscionable and unjustifiable. If we had to starve every member of the community into submission, as far as he was concerned, that would be a completely politically acceptable proposition. Of course, although the former Prime Minister has retired to the farm, some of those odd concepts from time to time have survived and emerged through some of his former Ministers.

Let me take a very simple example, that of the most recent air pilots strike. Let us assume that that strike had run for five or six weeks. The honourable member for Mackellar says that all the people who might have been consequently unemployed-the people who work at aerodromes, the people who fuel planes, the humble cleaner who walks around airport facilities, the small carrier who is delivering express parcels, who has to stand drivers down by virtue of that strike, of which they are victims as much as, if not more than, other members of the community-are not entitled to unemployment benefits. What argument does he give? He says: 'To do that is an extension of trade union power'. What palpable nonsense.

This is where there is a serious philosophical difference between the Hawke Government and honourable gentlemen opposite, who still walk in the befuddled atmosphere that was created by the former Prime Minister. We take the view that, wherever there is an industrial strike, it is the duty of the Government, first of all, to endeavour to conciliate and settle that dispute.

Does anybody seriously say that the first and prime duty of the Government should not be to conciliate and settle the dispute? This Government has not merely shown a record of a capacity to do that but also reached an accord with the trade union movement which makes industrial confrontation far less likely than it ever was during the days of the Fraser Government. Under the Fraser Government industrial confrontation was the order of the day. If the trade union movement in many areas was not prepared to go on strike in order to maintain people's living standards against the excesses of the former Government, Malcolm Fraser was more than ready time and again to forment industrial stoppage. He regarded that as essentially part of his view of how to run Australian society. That was his perception. That was the way he governed and that is one of the reasons honourable gentlemen opposite are consigned to the Opposition benches. Until there is a change of heart and a change of attitude that is where they are doomed to stay.

Let us examine the implications of the previous Government's concept. The second duty of any government in a modern democratic society where industrial stoppages occur is to try to relieve, wherever practical and wherever possible, the hardships and inconveniences that are created by that kind of industrial stoppage. Does anybody seriously argue against that proposition? If one is ameliorating hardship and is concerned to see that suffering is kept at a minimum, is it an overgenerous and irresponsible act-this was pointed out by the honourable member for Lowe-to provide benefits to, say, a group of workers in Sydney, not necessarily unionists, who find themselves unable to work and unable to maintain the level of payments on their house, refrigerator or car because they are unable to work, not by virtue of any action of their own but by virtue of a set of industrial circumstances over which they have no control at all? I ask whether it is an act of generosity or an extension of trade union power to say to each of those people: 'You will have the same rights as every other Australian citizen. You are an innocent victim. You are, therefore, entitled to the benefits of an unemployment allowance'. These people will not be dining at the Ritz on the unemployment allowance; they will not be meeting the backers of the former Liberal Government in the flash restaurants of Sydney when they get their unemployment benefit.

Mr Carlton —Not even at E.J.'s.

Mr HOLDING —Not even at E.J.'s restaurant. They will not be mixing with honourable members opposite who have never had to face the problem of rearing a family when income stops and they are powerless to control events. This Government has a mandate for this legislation. When the Australian people rejected the Fraser Government they rejected some of these outlaw notions. I am deeply distressed to see that the honourable member for Mackellar, despite an honourable try, has not been able to convince some of the backwoodsmen in his party who are still in a state of some confusion and political shock at their rejection by the Australian people. They do not have any positive attitude on trying to reach an industrial accord with the trade union movement and they do not have any policy or philosophy in this matter. What are members of the Opposition forced to do? They are forced to grab the old style philosophy, cling to the old style mentality of the Fraser Government. The Valder report, the report of the Liberal Party Committee of Review, says they are not too good. We did not make any contribution to that review; we let the Committee make its own judgment about it. When we look at this issue we should clear our minds from the blinkers of the past. We realise there is a crisis in the Opposition. One could choose to be an old wet or one could be like the honourable member for Mackellar , a reborn dry. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) does not quite know what he is. He is a kind of Gucci blue-partly dry and certainly a little bit wet . I suggest, having regard to the real principles and the real benefits of this Bill, and having regard to the larger measure of consensus that has been reached , the members of the Opposition would be well advised not to proceed with the amendment which they propose.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.