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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 1986

Dr BLEWETT (Minister for Health)(10.11) —I move:

That the amendment be made.

The effect of the amendment moved by the Senate is to deny unemployment benefit to those unionists stood down as a result of industrial action even though they were not directly involved in that action. I move the acceptance of this amendment with reluctance. We had attempted in the amendments to the social security legislation to return to the pre-1979 situation. That would have allowed workers not involved in a strike, but stood down as a result of that industrial action, to be eligible for unemployment benefit; that is, we wished to return to the situation that existed in this country prior to the actions of the previous Government in 1979. However, Opposition members in another place in their infinite wisdom have chosen to deny those innocently caught up in industrial action the right to some Government support. Their actions in amending the legislation in this way will of course primarily hurt single income families, especially those families in which the spouse is not capable of undertaking work for reasons such as disability, pregnancy or illness.

The Government has always argued that what is proposed in this amendment is, in essence, an industrial matter which has no place in the realm of social security legislation. Under the amendment innocent parties caught up in the stand down or suspension provisions of industrial action will not be entitled to unemployment benefit unless they are in fact not a member of the union involved in the strike action. We find that the Opposition's blatant anti-unionism is reflected even in something as sensitive as basic income support. It is a bias that is obviously to the detriment of ordinary Australians. The provision becomes, in effect, a penalty for trade union membership. It is a provision which this Government finds abhorrent; it is a provision which we in the Government believe should have no place in social security legislation. This legislation was designed to allow the Department of Social Security to provide assistance for those who need it. It was designed without the handicap of the philosophical and ideological hang-ups which the Opposition has not injected into the legislation. The amendment will now effectively deny the rights to income support of people who are out of work through no fault or action of their own. We are talking here mostly about people on low incomes, about new migrants who might, in some cases, be laid off in Adelaide because of a dispute in Melbourne and will find themselves, under this amended legislation, without any support or income.

I have indicated the Government will accept this amendment, but with great reluctance. The reason we will accept it is that we cannot afford to delay the payment of all the other benefits in that social security legislation. If we were to hold up the legislation by not accepting this amendment we would delay payment of a whole range of important benefits due to come into effect on 1 November. We would delay the increases in the single adult unemployment benefit. We would delay the increases in the single junior unemployment and sickness benefits. We would delay the issue of the 12-weekly health care cards for unemployment and special beneficiaries. We would also hold up the increases in the income limit for health care cards for the unemployed and special beneficiaries, and the additional benefits for the children of pensioners would also be delayed. In addition, pension increases would be held up and the changes to income limits for fringe benefits would also be delayed. The family income supplement and income limit increases would also be caught up in any confrontation with the upper House.

Frankly, the Government does not believe that these people can afford any delay . We believe that we must honour as quickly as we can our commitment to them. We put that before achieving a victory on this point in the Parliament. But this Government will persist in trying to correct at the earliest opportunity what we see as a blatant injustice inserted into this legislation by the Opposition parties in the Senate. We accept the amendment, but with great reluctance.