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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 407

Mr EDWARDS (BEROWRA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry. I refer to the 25 per cent across-the-board tariff cut announced in July and the proposals for adjustment assistance to be administered by the Department of Secondary Industry - in particular, the undertaking to pay assistance at a weekly amount equal to the average wage in the previous 6 months for an employee who loses his job. While appreciating the expediency of making this provision with a view to 'selling' the tariff cut proposal to the Australian Labor Party's trade union controllers, I ask: Is not unemployment benefit at this rate highly discriminatory as compared with the $23 a week standard rate and $40.50 a week married rate established by Act No. 1 of this year as amended by the recent Budget? Is it to apply in respect of all economic policy initiatives by the Government? I have in mind that, according to the Treasury, the tariff cut was akin to a revaluation of the order of 2i per cent. No such provision was made, was it, for employees displaced by the much larger 7 per cent devaluation of December?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I ask the honourable gentleman to frame his question.

Mr EDWARDS - What is the position of employees who are to be retrenched in defence production establishments, especially those in country areas, as referred to by the Minister for Defence at page 25 of his statement on Wednesday night last?

Dr S F CAIRNS (LALOR, VICTORIA) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - I think it has been obvious for a great many years that it is necessary for considerable improvements to be made in the provision of benefits for those who happen to be unemployed or disemployed. For 23 long years I watched this miserable unemployment benefit being paid out by our predecessors. One of my early intentions was to do all I could to have that advanced and improved. I was concerned, first of all, to gain acceptance of the principle that where any unemployment was caused by the application of government policy we would not require those adversely affected by it to go on living on the unemployment pittance that prevails generally.

Mr Anthony - That would apply, too, to dairy fanners, I hope.

Dr J F CAIRNS (LALOR, VICTORIA) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - Dairy farmers, who so far have been pretty adequately provided for by legislation which the Leader of the Australian Country Party had a considerable hand in designing, have not been overlooked. The point I am making is that the unemployed for whom he feels no similar responsibility have been overlooked considerably. As Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry, it has been my intention to make sure that we do not overlook those people who have been adversely affected by the 25 per cent tariff cut.

Mr Hayden - What about the 100,000 people whom the previous Government put out of work?

Dr JT F CAIRNS (LALOR, VICTORIA) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - The Minister for Social Security reminds me of the more than 100,000 people whom our predecessors put into unemployment the year before last as a result of applying government policy and for whom they made no provision at all. I contrast that with the method adopted by this Government. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of the Australian people will support the steps taken by this Government. We intend to apply that principle more widely to all the unemployed as we can afford to do so. The honourable member for Berowra, being an economist, would know that there is a limited amount available for any government to provide these improvements. Unfortunately, sometimes people who are badly off have to be denied because of the overall effect of increased expenditure on the economy. But this principle will be applied to an increasing number of people until, I hope, we reach the stage already achieved by advanced countries in the Scandinavian area and elsewhere. I remind the honourable member who is now interjecting that such people do not have any sidelines such as writing articles for the financial Press.

The principle has applied in advanced countries for a long time that when people are out of work they receive something like the income they received before - something like the average income of the community. So there is no fall in income when a person happens to be unfortunate enough by industrial changes or by government changes to be unemployed. The concept of most of my conservative opponents who are interjecting, that unemployment is evidence of a particular fault of the individual for which he should be punished, has gone - and it has certainly gone from the policy of this Government.

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