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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1631

Mr CARLTON(12.19) —I move:

Clause 30, page 17, omit sub-clause (2).

I did explain in the second reading debate why the Opposition is opposed to this particular sub-clause being included in the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill. I remind the House what the outcome of this clause would be. The rules governing qualification for unemployment benefit in strike situations would be:

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

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

(3) members of other unions at the establishment at which a strike takes place . . . will be qualified . . .

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

The Opposition is opposed to this measure. When in government, it brought in a measure of this kind to deny the unemployment benefit to certain persons put out of work as a result of strikes for a very good reason-that is, that strikes would have a tendency to be extended if those organising the strike knew that they could call upon the taxpayer to pay the equivalent of strike pay to those who were thrown out of work as a result of their actions. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), who is seated at the table, brought up an example of a strike by airline pilots and he said that if it went on for six weeks surely all those people thrown out of work as a result of that strike should receive unemployment benefit and that would be the decent thing--

Mr Holding —Not 'should'-'should be entitled to'; there is a difference.

Mr CARLTON —He said that they should be entitled to unemployment benefit and that that would be the decent thing to do. All I say in response to that is: If that message is generally available then the chances of that strike going on for six weeks are at least doubled.

It just has to be understood that we are not living in a vacuum. The situation in Australia is made very clear when we look at the economic scenarios given at the National Economic Summit Conference. We are looking at scenarios which lead to extended unemployment over a long period. One of the main reasons for that unemployment is that the people who are in employment who are able to organise strikes are extracting more out of the community than it can afford. As a result , enormous numbers of people are left on the scrap-heap. Part of the Bill about which we are talking deals with paying unemployment benefit to those out of work , for quite genuine reasons, in this period of economic downturn. The Government is saying that it will extend those payments, extend the call on the taxpayer, to place a further implement-a further weapon-in the hands of those who seek to carry out strike action-strike action which may or may not be justified.

I do not go into the merits of any particular strike. But anybody who organises a strike goes into it knowing that those who call strikes have certain penalties imposed on them. They, in turn, impose certain penalties on the public and on other workers. If those penalties are to be reduced by subsidy from the taxpayer so that the net effects of that strike on some people will be less but worse on the whole community, that is something that we cannot abide with. The Minister spoke as if the rest of the world is not here. Not only our domestic situation will be involved as a result of unemployment but also the world outside will treat us very badly indeed if we continue to write out cheques on an account that is already overdrawn.

We are in a situation where our standards of pay, compared with other parts of the world, are too high at this stage for us to be truly competitive. We are coming into a situation in which elsewhere in the world the recession is starting to die down and we could benefit from that. If we get ourselves into a situation where our costs are too high, relative to our trading partners and to the rest of the world, we will maintain the level of unemployment from which we unfortunately suffer at the moment. Therefore, I think that anything which shifted the balance of power further in the direction of those who can organise strikes in this period of economic recession should not be supported by this House. We believe this very firmly indeed. We believe that we are speaking on behalf of the vast body of consumers and taxpayers. We are speaking on behalf of all those who hope that people within each workplace could come to an agreement on wages and conditions; that they could do it without strike action; and that they could remember all those who are on the dole queues and all those who are unable to enjoy the privilege of employment in the present situation. Certainly we hope that those people would not be calling on the general body of taxpayers to subsidise the outcome of their strike action. We believe that that is a perfectly justifiable proposition. I think ordinary members of the community would accept it and, as I said in my speech in the second reading debate, I believe that ordinary rank and file trade unionists would regard it as being acceptable.

The Australian Labor Party has a tendency to create principles out of nothing without economic reality. It is all very well to list a whole series of so- called rights in society. The Labor Party is very fond of doing this in almost every area. The sum total of rights, as enunciated by the Labor Party in its platform, is equal to at least twice the gross national product of Australia. We have to substitute the word 'requests' for the word 'rights' until the rights are proven to be genuine rights. In this particular case I do not believe that there is a right on the part of those who will be affected by strike action to call on the taxpayer to pay unemployment benefit. If that benefit is not available there will be immense pressure on those who call these strikes to resolve them in the fastest possible way. Certainly, if the measure goes ahead as now planned by the Government, I believe that strike situations, be they pilot strikes as mentioned by the Minister or strikes by anybody else, are likely to be extended as a result of the taxpayer conscription for strike pay which will be brought about by this legislation. The Opposition will vote to exclude the second part of clause 30 which attempts to introduce this measure.