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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2504

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - This must be one of the most remarkable debates that this Parliament has heard. The great criticism by the Opposition of the Government falls into a single category. It is a demand that the Government should reduce expenditure and spend more money. That is a most remarkable situation. The Opposition spokesmen so far have demanded that more should be spent on defence, that more money should be given to the States and that there should be a restoration of funds and benefits for the rural sector of the economy. In the very same breath, in a completely unashamed manner, they try to shrug off the illogical aspect of their argument and demand that Government expenditure be reduced. These are truly remarkable people. They are the descendents of those who gained government by promising to put value back into the pound and set Australia off on the highest rate of inflation which it has ever experienced. No previous government in Australia's history has been so prepared to attempt seriously to rebuild the new society that our citizens desire and need to improve the quality of life.

The want of confidence motion is insincere and cynical, and it is sponsored by people who are desperate and politically opportunistic. Honourable members opposite are truly strangers in a strange land. They have been overwhelmed by the speed of progress and the pace of change, and they are unable to cope with everything that is occurring. I should say at this stage that honourable gentlemen opposite should realise that noise is no substitute for logic, and to carry on with idle chatter like one would expect from a cage full of halftrained cockatoos will not impress the Australian electorate and will not get honourable members opposite back on this side of the House. They have to do much better than that. The carping criticism, the destructive criticism of the Government's actions without one single positive suggestion as to how current economic problems may be overcome is useless and will gain no support from the Australian people. But the masters of the Opposition are upset and concerned about the change in national emphasis. They had plans to continue the erosion and the ultimate elimination of Australian ownership and control of Australian industry. The plan was to reduce the Australian people to the position of being unprotected tenants in their own country.

A great deal has been said about strikes and about the outbreak of industrial disputes, so called. I am the last to suggest that the present situation is satisfactory. I am one who believes that the ultimate objective of this Parliament and of any government which sits in it should be to eliminate the cause and need for industrial disputes. I for one am quite disgusted to hear the nonsense which is preached from the other side of the House, with the possible exception of the rare speech which emanates from one or two individuals and which is constructive in its suggestion. I include the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who made a speech during the second reading debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which I, for one, believed might herald a new era in this House and a new standard of debate on industrial relations. We have seen today a degeneration of those lofty principles down to the level of cheap political opportunism.

What are the facts of the. present situation? The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) referred to 860,000 working days lost. The Government's Bill, which proposes to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and which is designed to give effect to the mandate of the Australian Constitution to prevent as well as settle industrial disputes, is still awaiting the approval of the other chamber. When the Bill passed through this House some months ago it was opposed and the Liberal-Country Party coalition succeeded in convincing the Senate to reject the Bill in its totality. It is no use honourable gentlemen opposite now disclaiming any responsibility. The measures contained in that Bill are designed to put the emphasis on conciliation for the prevention of disputes. It is no use honourable members opposite trying to ridicule what the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has said in respect of this matter. They know what he has said is the truth and that the responsibility is theirs. They are the guilty men.

Let us look at the working days lost in Australia. In the year ended June 1971, 1,328,600 working days were lost through industrial disputes. In the year ended June 1972, 1,422,300 working days were lost- in other words, an increase of less than 100,000 days in the whole year. Let me remind honourable gentlemen opposite that all production lost is a loss to the Australian community, particularly in this period when there is a shortage of goods and services. As a result of accidents in New South Wales alone, in the year ended June 1972, 1.9 million working days were lost. That is the figure for one State alone; figures on a nation-wide basis are not available to me.

The number of days lost through industrial disputes pales into minor insignificance when compared with the number of days lost through the disastrous economic policies of the previous Government. For example, at June 1972, the seasonally adjusted figure for unemployment was 105,000. Many more people than that were actually out of work, but that was the seasonally adjusted figure. That figure means that 4.25 million working hours were being lost every week at that time. The Leader of the Opposition, who was then the Treasurer - the architect behind and the man responsible for that disaster - has the gall and the nerve to try to convince the Australian people that this Government is responsible for a loss in production of some 860,000 working days. He caused approximately as much loss of working days every week through his own direct and deliberate action. That is serious. The fact that in that period some 4.25 million working hours were lost every week is a direct cause of the shortages of goods and services that wc are experiencing today. Let us face this fact: The position today is that we are short of goods and services because of the increased consumer demand which is existing, as well as certain other factors.

What about this question of industrial relations? Has a really constructive and practical proposition been put forward by the Opposition? Certainly not. Do we in this Parliament understand that there is a real problem of communication in the work place? Let me take one simple example of this. In the course of the recent Ford dispute, the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commision made a judgment. At the end of that decision, for the first time since Federation and for the first time since the end of the Second World War when our great immigration program commenced, the President directed and found it necessary to order formally that his decision be printed in several languages, because he thought it proper that everybody affected by that decision should be able to read it and understand it. How do we truly expect to improve communication and industrial relations if in some industries the majority of employees cannot even read the conditions under which they work?

The previous Government did nothing at all in that regard, but members of the former Government Parties, now in Opposition, criticise the Australian Government - the best Australian Government since the Second World War - in this respect. They seek to blame the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and this Government for the power strike in New South Wales. The Leader of the Opposition, driven in his desperate anxiety to head off the challenge to his leadership, even attempted to blame the Prime Minister for the garbage strike in Sydney over last weekend. We could do with a garbage strike in this House from time to time to try to cut out some of the garbage which comes across the centre table.

The power dispute was a classic example of a government deliberately attempting to provoke an industrial dispute to subject the people of New South Wales to misery and suffering in order to gain some form of political advantage. During that strike the Prime Minister of Australia same forward with the only positive, concrete, sensible suggestion that was made in the whole dispute. And what did the Premier of New South Wales say? When he read the message and received the suggestion from the Prime Minister, fearful that this would settle the dispute, he told the Prime Minister: 'Go away and mind your own business. I do not want anybody settling the disputes that I am creating.' That was the sort of attitude he adopted. Now his little puppet here, the Leader of the Opposition, stands up and attempts to place some criticism on the Australian Government. This no confidence motion is conceived in hypocrisy. It is born in political opportunism. It deserves to be rejected by this House. I share the confidence of the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) that it will be rejected overwhelmingly by this Parliament.

Let us look at the consumer price index. It shows an increase of 10.6 per cent. That is too high. The Government knows it is too high. The Government is determined to reduce as far as possible the rate of increase in prices. In fact the Government has taken action to reduce prices. But let us look at the facts. Do not let us just run away with statistics. There are some important facts to be looked at, and members of the Australian Country Party should be the first to look at them because when they stand in this Parliament and demand that action be taken to reduce the rate of increase they are demanding that their pets in this community should have their incomes reduced. Half the cost of living increase is attributable to food, and the great bulk of that is related to the rapid and substantial increase in the cost of meat and potatoes. Their hypocrisy is exposed every time we look at what they say.

On the one hand they demand that there should be a free market situation. No matter how the market is controlled by private investors, they say there must be no government intervention. 'Do not touch the meat prices. Do not have a meat tax,' they say. The Government listened to them. 'Do not restrict the export of meat from Australia which is causing the great increases at the present time. Leave all that alone so that we can then come along and attack you for doing nothing.' That is their attitude. It is well for them to see and it is well for their electorate to understand what they are arguing for here today. When they say that the consumer price index rate of increase must be reduced they are advocating action to reduce the price of meat in this country and the price received by the producers.

The only answer the Liberal and Country parties of this country have had for a quarter of a century is that when they achieved excess demand they say: 'Let us reduce the demand.' This Government takes exactly the opposite view. It says: 'Let us increase the supply.' And that is what we are going to do. If it means we have to put up with the carping, nonsensical criticism of the Opposition in the process we will do it. If the Opposition succeeds in misleading some of the Australian people and we suffer the consequences of that, we will accept that too. But we are not going to be diverted just because of their criticism from what is right and from the positive steps to reconstruct this country so that all of its citizens have equality of opportunity, so that all of its citizens have a better life style.

The Opposition's system is to create a massive pool of unemployment. Honourable members opposite regarded it as a disaster if the number of unemployed fell below 100,000. If it fell below 100,000 they were running around trying to find how to get it back up to 100,000 again. What did the previous Government do in terms of its manpower policy? It said: 'What is that?' The previous Government did not have a manpower policy. Its only manpower policy was to create unemployment. Today home buyers are bearing the brunt of the situation which developed in the building trade. The result is chaos because the previous Government allowed a situation to develop in which there were no training facilities available for young men and young women who wished to enter the skilled trades in the building industry. Only a year ago we saw a situation where there was massive unemployment in this country. The former Government did nothing to retrain those unemployed workers - not a thing. It did nothing to attempt to regulate the price of land. Unemployment was rife a year ago, and the then Prime Minister was almost on his political knees begging the Australian community: 'Please spend some money - anything, one cent, $1, $10. Please spend your money'.

The Opposition today says that this Government does not have the confidence of the Australian people. The people have too much confidence. People are spending all their savings. They have absolute confidence in the future. The old idea of keeping your money because you do not know whether you will be out of a job next week is gone and people are now prepared to spend. That means that we have a great demand - a demand which cannot be satisfied because of a number of factors, one of which is directly attributable to the lack of manpower policy of the Opposition. The present Minister for Labour, contrasted with the previous Minister for Labour, is the first man since the Second World War to undertake a manpower survey in this country. He has positive suggestions to make which I understand will be forthcoming in the near future. Confucius said: Study the past if you would divine the future'. In other words, have a look at the track form before you have a bet. That is what the Australian people will do. When they look at the track form of the Opposition and look at how it has gone in previous races they will see what the Opposition's attitude is. It opposed price regulation. It is opposed to legislation to regulate restrictive trade practices. It has opposed revaluation of the currency. It has opposed the restrictions placed by this Government on foreign capital investment. It has opposed tariff reductions. It has opposed the Australian Industry Development Corporation legislation, a substantial part of which is designed to encourage citizens to save their money and to invest it in Australian industry. Of course, the Opposition does not want the ordinary people in Australia to invest their money. It does not want the ordinary citizen to have a stake in the future of this country. It wants to keep it for its rich and powerful friends - the overseas monopolies, the international cartels and the multi-national corporations. It has opposed land price stabilisation.

It says: 'Gut expenditure'. I suppose it means that we should reduce the money for education; that it is wrong for us to want to make a massive investment in the future so that there will be in Australia better trained people, people with better understanding, able to develop a better quality of life. Reduce pensions is the other possibility. We could put them hack to where the former Government had them in the poverty class, trapped in the poverty trap. That is where they would be - caught in the poverty trap forever perhaps. It is interesting to note that although the consumer price index increased by 10.6 per cent, pension increases granted so far and projected and promised will mean an increase of 14 per cent in the pensions payable to the elderly citizens of Australia. We will not deny those who built this economy. We will not leave them in a state of misery as the former Government did in its cynical and callous way. The consumer price index is an indicator; it is not conclusive. It has been well established that as prices rise so consumer habits change. I am very sorry to say - I know it has no effect on some honourable members opposite - that because of increasing meat prices the consumption of beef in Australia is falling. It means that some are going without red meat. What a ludicrous situation we are in because of the attitude of the Opposition when it was in government for far too long.

This motion is a desperate attempt to drag this Government down. It is all part of the plan. It started when this Government started to question the role of the multi-national corporations. The Australian people will not be fooled. They know who the agents of the international monopolies are in this place, and they will not be fooled by the smokescreen that is drawn out. Neither will we. As Cicero said, the good of the people is the chief law. That is what we will abide by. We will not abide by the greed and avarice represented by members opposite. We will not bow the knee to the god of the multi-national corporation and the international cartel.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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