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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1279


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The speech which we have just heard from the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes), well presented and well delivered as it was, does not dispel from my mind the very serious doubt that Papua New Guinea is still held in the minds of Australians as a colony and is treated as such. I make one very brief comment on the speech that the Minister made. He said that there are 103,000 head of cattle in the Territory and then he proudly announced that 14,000 of these cattle are owned by indigenous people. In other words a little over 10 per cent of all the cattle in the Territory are owned by the local people.


Mr Barnes - What about the shares in Bougainville?


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - That is another question and it probably bears as much investigation as the matter on which I have just made a brief comment. I support the amendment moved so capably by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). Many honourable members on the Government side of this House have endeavoured to justify the Budget proposals introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) but they have had a very hard road to hoe. The Budget quite naturally has attracted the attention of writers, expert and otherwise, outside this Parliament. I would like briefly to quote some of these people. One writer says:

The Treasurer and his advisers have been mesmerised by the spectre of over demand. Instead of combating inflation, the Budget will encourage it and blow more ill winds on an economy which ls already sick.

The same writer in his article goes on to say:

The whole price rise cycle is put in train again . . . there will be more industrial disputes over wage claims when people find their take home pay reduced and demand more money

Another journal states:

This is an unimaginative and vague Budget. The Treasurer has looked to traditional sources such as company tax, personal income tax and excise duties to service additional Commonwealth Government spending.

Those quotes are not from radical trade union journals but are the considered opinions of such an august body as the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce as published on the front page of its journal Commerce News' dated 20th August 1971, and of the President of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales as printed on the front page of 'Manufacturers' Bulletin' dated 20th August 1971. The points made by those leaders in commerce and manufacture are well taken.

The Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in his Budget Speech under the heading 'The Budget Strategy' said:

Although cost increases and the price increases which follow them may be due, in the first instance, to increases in wages and other cost elements, they are without doubt stimulated and made possible by conditions of strong demand for resources. Hence, if resistance to such cost increases is to be stiffened, as it must be, there has to be a sufficient degree of restraint on potential demand for resources, particularly in those sectors where it is obviously running too high.

The Treasurer, as that passage from his Speech indicates, obviously considers inflation to be a serious matter. Elsewhere he speaks of wage increases as being a very serious contributor to inflation.

Whilst the Treasurer may be of the opinion - and I defend his right to have an opinion - that wage increases are the sole cause of increasing prices, 60 per cent of all taxpayers - that is, those who earn $60 a week or less - hold a converse opinion. They are quite correct in their assessment that it is essential to pursue wage claims in order to maintain their existing standard of living. That standard, may I remind the House, is not a luxurious one. An illustration of the standard of living provided by $60 a week would be the attitude adopted by the Housing Commission of Victoria which will not sell a house to a person whose weekly income is below $70 a week because of the inability of that person to service the debt on the house. So if the Treasurer is correct in his assessment somebody other than the producers of goods and services - remember that the 60 per cent of taxpayers earning less than $60 a week are the producers - is receiving substantial increases in his income, and those increases are being mysteriously transferred back to production costs.

In fact, this Budget is contributing as much as any other factor to the aggravation of the difference between income and expenditure of the average family. It has attacked the average family in every way. It has increased taxation, fares, postage, telephone charges, the cost of a television licence, the cost of cigarettes, hospital charges and many more areas that are expenses to the family. Perhaps that is the true strategy of the Budget. The tactics are clear: Needle the unionist until he fights for his rights; then batter him into submission.

The arguments advanced by the Government and its spokesmen are meaningless, but the Government obviously sees a necessity to bolster its rapidly falling stocks by espousing the gigantic untruth of wage rises causing price rises as a sort of artillery piece to be used against those bad lads, the trade unionists of this country. The Treasurer speaks vaguely of strong demand for resources. He would lead us to believe that the populace is demanding more than can be supplied to it.

This poses the question: What is the community seeking so avidly that it is in short supply? Weil, those for whom 1 speak, that is, those who work to create the goods and services, have simple tastes. The things that they require are not in short supply. Supermarkets are well stocked with food. They do not queue for bread and milk. Clothing is not rationed. When they can afford it. they can purchase furniture, household goods, electrical appliances and even motor cars from stock. All goods and services are readily available to those who can pay. Sellers are in competition with each other to sell. One night's viewing of any commercial television programme or the scanning of newspapers will advise of the many sellers who wish to sell. provided that the worker is able and willing to pay the exorbitant prices asked for land and dwellings, he may buy these off the hook, as it were. The Associated Chambers of Manufacturers and the Bank of New South Wales report that 72 per cent of Australian manufacturers are operating below capacity owing to an insufficiency of new orders. Therefore, where is this great demand which is causing our monetary problems? Far be it from me to have the temerity to challenge the knowledge of the Treasurer, but he has lost me and 1. am sure a number of Australians with his jiggery pokery which is dignified by being called a Budget.

The aorta of this whole exercise seems to be, in order of preference: Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the trade unions which make an invaluable contribution to the development of this country and the members of the trade unions who can proudly and rightly be called the backbone of this nation, lt is understandable to me and, 1 am sure, to my friend Bob Hawke, that the

Government and especially its spokesmen on industrial matters should mount a virulent campaign against a person such as he. He is under attack as an individual, not as the holder of the office of President of the ACTU. The reason for that attack is fairly obvious. His ability, tenacity and sagacity are a threat to the ivory tower of capitalism in this country. I will never cease to be amazed at the statements, innuendos and speculation on trade unions and the internal affairs of trade unions by people whose very words condemn them as being totally ignorant of the matters on which they profess knowledge.

There was a great deal of falk a short time ago about productivity. Those who have not yet realised the truth are still bandying this nice sounding word around. Those who have come to realise what productivity is have at least understood the fallacy of blaming any lack of productivity on the workers. The annual report for the year ended 30th June 1971 of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales was delivered by Mr A. J. White. Tt is reported in the 'Manufacturer's Bulletin' of 17th August 1971. It lists matters for the attention of the Government. Amongst other things, Mr White mentioned:

Governments can help by:

(a)   Using their taxing powers to encourage productivity growth, for example through an investment allowance on equipment that is specifically installed to improve efficiency or to increase sales volume through export.

(b)   Increasing special allowances for spending by companies on approved research projects that will raise productivity.

(c)   Changing any laws or regulations that add to costs without giving any benefits to the community.

Through the whole of this address, the knowledgeable man who gave it, Mr A. J. White, seemed very clearly to lay the blame for lack of productivity where it really exists: This is in lack of organisation by the managers and not by the workers. So let us have an end to this prattling which such dedicated conservatives as the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) periodically deliver in this House. Let ns be real. Let us take an adult position and use the resources of government and parliament to examine and initiate financial situations and set about solving them.

It is very interesting to hear the questions and answers in this place on unemployment. The Leader of the Opposition forecast an unemployment figure of 100,000 in the speech in which he moved this amendment. This statement caused Government members to engage in the favourite pastime of ridiculing the Leader of the Opposition. But again they found that they had a tiger by the tail when the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in his speech confirmed that figure of 100,000. But let me put another point of view. Let me put a comparison. The unskilled manual worker is a pretty good barometer for the employment field. He is the last to find work and the first to lose it. Taking the statistics for Victoria and comparing the position in July 1970 with the position in July 1971, we find that in 1970 in the unskilled manual category there were 303 vacancies for men and 2,483 men seeking those vacancies; or 8 men seeking each job. In July 1971, there were only 176 vacancies but 3,279 men were seeking them. In other words, 18 men were looking for each job that was available. The figure of 8 men a job in 1970 had risen to 18 men a job in 1971. The picture for Australia in percentage form was even worse. In July 1970, there were 3 men seeking each job in the Commonwealth. A year later, in July 1971, that number had trebled. Nine men were seeking each job. This is an alarming trend. The Budget seems to make every endeavour to give impetus to that trend, apparently to satisfy the conservative philosophy of controlling the economy and disciplining the unions by creating a pool of unemployed.

Honourable members opposite are mesmerised by the magnitude of figures and frequently they have cited the fact that 2 million man days are lost each year as a result of strikes. However, no effort has been made to explain the reasons for those strikes. The only exception would be when the Minister for Labour and National Service answered a question recently and had the decency and honesty to acknowledge the share of guilt that lies with shipowners and their representatives in relation to stoppages on the waterfront. I suggest that an examination of all disputes would not absolve the employers from responsibility.

Two million man days were lost last yea/ through strikes. We have an estimated work force of Si million people and that means that each working day 5i million man days of work are performed. If you really want to see figures of gigantic proportions you can multiply 5± million by 250, which is approximately the number of working days in a year, and you will obtain the number of man hours available each year. But rather than go through that arithmetical exercise suffice to say that 2 million man days represents about 3 hours work per worker per year. Good heavens, such a minute amount of work would be lost by each worker in a year simply by losing 4 minutes from work each week.

Let us continue with our little excursion into the strange land of arithmetica. With 75,000 people unemployed, we are losing 75,000 man days each day so that in less than 5 weeks 2 million man days - this seems to mesmerise honourable members on the other side - in production has been lost. Another facet overlooked by Government supporters is the industrial accidents that take place. I do not think it is generally realised that 14,000 people are injured every day through accidents at work. By multiplying 14,000 people by 250, representing the working days in a year, we get a loss of 3 J million man days a year lost because of industrial accidents. That is half as many man days again as are lost through strikes. This is- truly a frightening statistic. Let me remind honourable members that many disputes and many man hours are lost to production, if you like, because men refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

The Builders Labourers Union, which was one of those unions attacked in this House today, is very conscious of the safety of its members. It is not the only union that is so concerned about its members. Again I would say to the Government: Cut out politicking and get on with governing. The great cry recently was the need to hobble the activities of progressive unionists by insisting on secret ballots before workers went on strike. 'Good show' said the band-waggoners, 'let us do it.' But there always has to be a spoil sport. Someone read the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act and found section 45. He found that he already had the power to do what he wanted. It is like the boy who picked up a snake: he had hold of it but did not know what to do with it. Section 45 of that Act reads:

Where-

(a)   . . .

(b)   the Commission constituted by not less than 3 members nominated by the President (at least one of whom is a presidential member of the Commission) thinks that the views of the members, or of a section or class of the members, of the organization or of a branch of the organization upon a matter ought to be ascertained with a view to assisting the prevention or settlement of the dispute, the Commission so constituted may order that that matter be submitted to a vote of those members, or of the members of that section or class taken by secret ballot (with or without provision for absent voting) in accordance with directions given by the Commission.

The sooner this Government and its supporters realise the disservice they render to the community and the lack of political mileage they gain from attacking the unions the sooner someone will take the helm and steer our nation on a firm course.

The Budget allegedly does something to correct the situation so far as pensioners are concerned. The sum of $1.25 plus the 50c granted earlier this year sounds marvellous. Honourable members opposite have praised it greatly, but they are not pensioners and they do not have to maintain themselves on this pittance. The increases were hailed and justified by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) by comparing them with payments made in the 1940s - politicking again instead of giving the facts. Pensioners have a right to live at a standard of living comparable with the contemporary society and not with some previous standard of living, certainly not one of almost 3 decades ago.

A comparison with the average weekly wage as a yardstick shows a different picture. It shows a decrease in value from 25 per cent of the average weekly wage in 1946 to 18 per cent in 1972 - the lowest for 26 years. What a disgraceful and sordid story. Pensioners are in a dreadful plight. This fact is known to the Australian Labor Party but what about the position of other fixed income earners. Their situation is little better. There are many other things which should be brought to the attention of this House and undoubtedly they will be by my colleagues during this debate.

There is only one other matter I would like to refer to and this was raised by the Leader of the Opposition when he moved his amendment. He spoke about Commonwealth assistance for local government authorities. I have been in this Houselong enough to become cynical towards this Government's understanding of governing. Local government revolves around nothing else quite so much as finance. Government is finance and public finance is Government, and this applies to the third level as much as it applies to the other two. Local government spends a good deal of its time planning permanent works. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works is now paying 58.3c in every dollar of revenue to service its loan commitments. If this situation continues much longer there is no doubt that the Board will, like local government authorities in Victoria and in other States, shortly be raising revenue simply to service debts at very unreal interest rates. Towards this end I place the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the Government. The Government is responsible for this high rate of interest. It is responsible for the neglect of this area of government. It is time that this Government made some endeavour to do something about the situation.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.







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