Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 892

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The Bill which we are debating at the moment was introduced by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) some short time ago. The Prime Minister made a short second reading speech which I will comment on in a moment. One significant factor that he mentioned in his second reading speech is contained in the following statement:

We want the national Government to continue to set the pace in improving the working conditions of Australian men and women.

Regardless of what the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) has said in recent minutes, the previous Commonwealth Government in fact has done just that. There are many things in relation to the employment of people in this country and other countries other than 4 weeks annual leave. During the period of the previous Government - over the last 23 years, to use the term used many times in the House, the terms and conditions of employment of public servants in this country improved beyond recognition. No-one would deny that point. Because of improved conditions, not only in the Public Service but right across Australia, we have had an improved output.

Many factors, apart from 4 weeks annual leave, are involved in the employment of people. I have no doubt that this continued improvement in working conditions will continue. At least I hope it will continue under the present Government. The Minister's second reading speech did not contain one word about what is involved in granting 4 weeks annual leave to public servants. At the moment some public servants in Australia do get 4 weeks annual leave depending entirely upon where they are situated. As far as I can see, nothing has been said about that position. No mention has been made about whether the present situation will remain or whether it will advance. I find it rather difficult to understand why there is such limited information in this measure which deals with 250,000 people employed in the Public Service. The second reading speech, which is an important document, contains fewer than 4 sheets of paper. I would have liked to have seen a much more comprehensive document.

Not a word has been said about the cost involved in this measure. I am quite a practical sort of chap and I know that it is quite impossible to lay down in actual figures what the costs will be of any measure of this nature because such a yardstick cannot be described exactly in figures. But the Government could have had a shot at it. It could have given some indication of what is involved. I believe that this should be done.

We have heard a lot from time to time in arguments in arbitration courts and around the country in relation to productivity. Despite what was said by the honourable member for Phillip, I have had quite a lot of experience in this field. Some of the arguments that have been put forward are quite inaccurate. I will give an example which I may have given to this House previously. Where bulk commodities have been handled by modern methods, the result has been incorporated in the figures of tonnages handled and it has been suggested in courts that the productivity is increased by that particular sum. That is absolute rubbish. These commodities have been handled in a certain way in the years gone past, and no man who knows this game would want that situation to continue. But where because of rising costs, for manpower reasons and for many other reasons, there has been a change in technique, especially around our coastline, and millions of dollars have been spent improving the conditions of workers in those industries, many tons per man per hour have been able to be handled as against no tons per man per hour previously. To write that sort of thing into productivity gains is not real at all because one has to consider the total scene. So even in this way it is difficult to lay down precisely what the cost will be.

We know that in a measure of this nature where so much is involved there will be a cost to the community. Improvements in working conditions throughout Australia can be obtained as we move along but they can be obtained only at a certain cost to the community which has to pay for this item. They are not free of cost. They are inbuilt into the structure of costs in this country. Items such as this in any measure are quite important. Let me give an example of what is happening in the Post Office, which is the biggest single industry in Australia today employing more people than any other industry in Australia. The last figure I remember was that about 110,000 people were employed in the Post Office. Quite recently we have heard the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) talking in this House about the troubles he has in relation to the monetary situation in this area. Let him come out with the facts of life. Let him come out and tell us of the real causes of the problems that are concerning that establishment.

I draw to the attention of the House the annual report of the Australian Post Office for the year ended 30th June 1972, which is the latest one available. It is interesting to notice that the total operating expenses were $798.7m, representing an increase of $8 1.5m or 11.3 per cent. The biggest single feature in cost increases was the higher average salary and wage rate applicable during the year. The total labour bill, covering both capital works and operational staff, was $53 5m, an increase of 16.3 per cent. When the present measure is applied to the situation of the Post Office, obviously there will be a further increase in the wage and salary situation within the Post Office because the staff level increase in the figures for that year was less than 2 per cent. So the problem is not a matter of the increased number of personnel being employed in the Post Office; it is caused by that large 16.3 per cent increase in wages and salaries. When this measure is applied to the situation for the coming year, obviously there will be an additional cost factor. I suggest that the Postmaster-General should not continue to blame certain activities of the telecommunications service in country areas for the problems in the Post Office. We are well aware of the situation and of his problems. We appreciate the situation. But it is no good turning a blind eye to it at all. We must face up to the realities of life, and that is what we have to do in relation to all the measures that improve the conditions of the work force of Australia.

As I have indicated, we cannot always use a positive yardstick. There is always a margin in this sort of thing. But to grant an extra week's leave to Post Office workers will require 2,300 extra employees in a single year to pick up the extra work load. If that situation is applied to the Public Service generally, 5,200 extra employees will be needed to pick up the extra work load which is left. I have always said that the cost cannot be measured exactly, but these figures are relevant and should be stated for the public so that they will know what is involved. This Parliament, which is a responsible body, should look very thoroughly at this situation when a Bill of this nature is brought in. The point I made at the beginning was that I was disturbed by the fact that the second reading speech did not fully explain the consequences of any major move of this nature. I do not in any way suggest that the working conditions of wage and salary earners, whether they be in the public or the private sector, should not be improved. I for one have always tried to improve the situation and the lot of people in Australia. I believe that this is right. But let us not forget that as we move up the ladder there is always a cost factor involved and there must be a build-up in production by individuals if we want to improve the very high standard of living which we in fact enjoy in Australia. We want to improve that high standard of living. Regardless of what has been said, in the last 20-odd years the standard of living in Australia has improved tremendously. One has only to travel overseas to realise the good position we are in.

Another point concerned me considerably when the Bill was going through the rigours of being implemented, from the time it was suggested by the present Government prior to the election. It was indicated that only those people within the Public Service who belonged to particular unions would receive 4 weeks' annual leave. I find it very difficult to understand that a responsible body of men or a responsible government should endeavour to implement such a proposal.

The second reading speech on the electoral Bill which was introduced into this place quite recently and which I understand may be debated later today contains some words which I hope I may be permitted to mention without being ruled out of order. The expression to which I refer is 'those fundamental principles of human rights and democracy in this nation'. These are the things that are at risk in that Bill. A similar expression should be incorporated in this Bill as the words are very relevant so far as union membership is concerned.

I believe in organisation and that the unions in Australia can play a large part in improving conditions, especially in those instances where there is a need for negotiations between the employer and employees, perhaps involving even the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. This is an integral part of the whole union system, but there cannot be compulsion. The unions must win their own way into attracting membership to the unions. If union membership is compulsory the whole credibility of unions will start to disappear. Only by attracting membership and doing those things which need to be done will the unions and their leaders be able to illustrate that they are capable of taking responsibility and doing the things that need to be done. Only in this way will they be able to show that we can have sound union organisations in Australia. I would oppose measures of the kind that the Government endeavoured to implement by which it was proposed to discriminate between union and non-union members of the Public Service.

At the beginning of my remarks I mentioned cost, and I have made repeated references to it in the course of my speech. This is a very important issue in relation to this or any other issue with which the House may deal today. In recent times I have heard many honourable members comment on the cost of commodities. References to this subject have appeared in documents that have come to my notice and in newspaper commentaries. We have a situation today in which some food prices have risen. I suggest that many commodities in respect of which comments about prices increases have been made have been far too cheap over the years. Primary industries in Australia in the last few years have been passing through a very difficult time during which costs have been rising and returns from commodities have been declining. At present many industries are returning to a situation in which they are able to make ends meet

However, this recovery cannot be achieved overnight. Costs are still rising and still present a problem in the community, not only in relation to primary industries but also to the whole nation and particularly to people on fixed incomes.

Let us not turn a blind eye to measures of this kind which may come before the House in this or future sessions or imagine that they will not affect costs. The position of the primary industries is improving at the moment, but if our economy is not checked to the extent that a workable economic arrangement can be attained for producers of primary products, those producers will no longer be around. This point is basic. It has been suggested that not enough meat is available in this country or that the cost of meat is too high. People who make those criticisms should look first at the total scene. European countries and most other countries including Japan and America today are experiencing a shortage of foodstuffs, particularly food concentrates. This presents a very serious situation and the only way in which it can be rectified is by a realisation throughout the world that if people want these commodities they must be prepared to pay a reasonable price for them. That is why I have been saying that costs have been too high relative to the returns received over the years by producers of some commodities. This is one of the main reasons why production of those commodities has declined. The only way in which the situation can be improved is by looking after the costs and prices situation in our own country.

I have mentioned before that I do not object to improvements in conditions for those who work in Australia or, for that matter, in any other country. Surely there is room for plenty of improvement in other parts of the world as well as in Australia. I have always endeavoured to play my part in improving working conditions in Australia. For this reason I do not oppose the Bill. However, I reiterate that the people directly and indirectly involved in measures of this kind must keep in mind the cost of implementing these proposals. I trust that in future when the Government brings down legislation of this nature involving so many people it will make available to honourable members a document setting out what is involved in the measure and provide far more information than has been supplied on this occasion.

Suggest corrections