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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2514

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - The Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) has described his administration as one of benign supervision. I think we need to look only at some of the words he used in not answering the Opposition's case made by the honourable member for Farrar (Mr Fairbairn) to see how benign his own administration might be. He made it quite plain that he has great pride in forcing Australian companies to cringe before him. They are not my words; they are his own words. The Minister apparently has pride in the fact that Australian companies, in his terms, have behaved with great stupidity, and he likes to relate that all around the world. Whether that fulfils his own political philosophy of benign supervision I do not know, but he shows it in a strange way. He has been offensive to Japan and in his recent speech he talked of imitating the imitators. He knows quite well that he was referring to Japan when he said that. He has said that he will honour contracts, but I will indicate in a few minutes 10 election promises which have been broken by the present Government. Is not an election promise a contract with the people of Australia? If a contract with the people of Australia is to be broken, a contract between this Government and a particular company will have even less worth.

Even this morning the Minister indicated that he would table legal opinions concerning the validity of the Pipeline Authority Act. When does he intend to table those documents? The Minister has said that he will act regardless of legal opinion. I would like to know what precedent there is for not awaiting a High Court decision in these particular matters. He made it quite plain that he was trying to find ways and means of getting Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd to fulfil the uranium contracts of other companies. He said he would fulfil and honour the agreements with other companies, but at the same time he has made it plain that he is looking for ways in which Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd might be able to fulfil those contracts which would in fact be a denial of the agreement and a denial of the letter written by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) before Christmas last year. The Minister, full of contradiction, said that he places great reliance on the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. It is only a week or two ago that he said that so far as the Snowy Mountains Council is concerned he did not care a damn and that he would do what he wanted, irrespective of the decisions or recommendations of the Snowy Mountains Council. Of course, in relation to the Snowy Mountains

Council matters the Minister had his marching orders from the power unions of New South Wales.

The honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) a little earlier in the debate said that he thought that there ought to be industrial debate without temper. I think in most of his speech he might have tried to follow that particular tenet, but not in all of it by any means. He indicated that the strikes and lost time would not have occurred throughout this year if the industrial legislation of the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) had been passed through this Parliament. What would that have done to the power disputes in New South Wales, to the mail dispute and to the radio technicians dispute which hamstrung Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport, with domestic and international transport, for so long? In those circumstances the Government could have acted quickly. It has the powers under the Public Service Act. The Minister's legislation does not touch the Public Service Act but the Government waited for days and for weeks before finally acting. Rather, it was not the Government that acted; it was the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions who with one hat supports the Prime Minister but with the other opposes him vigorously and strongly. In this particular instance the honourable member for Phillip suggested that the New South Wales Premier should have accepted the Prime Minister's offer of a Conciliation and Arbitration Commission judge to help in the dispute. The honourable member for Phillip would know quite well that New South Wales could not accept that offer. The bench of the New South Wales Industrial Commission would probably have resigned if the offer had been accepted because it would have been a vote and a mark of complete no confidence in the New South Wales industrial jurisdiction. That view is held by significant parts of the trade union movement in New South Wales.

Mr Riordan - Name one.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Would not the honourable member love one to be named. He would be chasing them and dumping them in Sydney Harbour as fast as he could go.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) did not answer one point made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). He needed to reassure his own supporters. He spoke only to his own supporters. He has been overruled in Caucus too often in the last two or three months and the polls are beginning to show it. Only 39 per cent of the people of Queensland support this Government and the Australian Labor Party. The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was in the Parliament this morning, I think when the Prime Minister was speaking. I do not know in what sense he was sitting in the gallery. I do not know whether it was as President of the Australian Labor Party or as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. But we all know which hat this man believes to be the most important - that of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It is not surprising because he also would know and so would the Minister for Labour that the doctors and academics, the strength of the present Labor Party, do not understand and have no comprehension of the problems of the average Australian. If they had any comprehension of these problems they would do something effective to control inflation and something effective to protect the position of the average family person in Australia. So far they have done nothing at all.

It will be interesting to find out what happens when the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions recognises publicly that a referendum on prices will include the power to control wages. Will that mean he will then oppose the referendum on prices as well as the referendum on incomes which he is presently committed to oppose? Recent legal decisions in South Australia make it quite inevitable that power to control prices will include power to control wages. The Prime Minister admitted that fact in his talk to the nation when introducing the referendum subjects. This Government is condemned for its lack of economic management. It revalued twice, before and after Christmas, without consultation with appropriate Ministers and departments. In the winter the Government cut tariffs. It used the Budget merely as an instrument of social and political change and advocated economic responsibility. It decided to spend an extra $2,000m and despite promises to the contrary it increased personal income tax by nearly $1,1 00m in 1 year. The failure of the Budget as an instrument to control an even balance of the economy was recognised 3 weeks after the event with a further revaluation decision and another quite disgraceful decision which is making interest rates higher than they have been in 100 years of Australia's history. This has come from a low interest rate party. The farmers were to receive $500m at 3 per cent from the terrier from the Riverina. Not one cent was made available under about 10 per cent interest. That is the Government's attitude to low interest rates and to a pre-election promise of that kind. The present interest rate is the highest for 100 years.

In the December quarter last year inflation was running at not much more than 1.1 per cent; at the second quarter of this year it was running at 3.3 per cent and at the third quarter at 3.6 per cent. In each of those quarters inflation, as a result of this Government's policies, was running at a greater rate than the average for the total period of Liberal-Country Party Government over 23 years. That, in itself, is a condemnation of the Government's policies. In total the revaluations resulted in a 25 per cent change in the value of the Australian dollar in relation to the United States dollar and sterling. The Government has shown that it is prepared to use tariff changes and revaluation as an instrument of short term economic policy. This leads to uncertainty, difficulty in planning and difficulty in providing continuity of employment in business.

You will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this morning the Prime Minister indicated that Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, under the control methods of this Government, had had a 3 per cent increase and 5.5 per cent increase in its prices. He tried to compare those increases unfavourably with the 8 per cent increase that occurred in January 1972 when we were in power. But I rather think that 3 per cent and 5.5 per cent make an increase this year of 8.5 per cent rather than an 8 per cent increase as was the case when we were in power. If inflation continues at its present rate, the next Autumn increase no doubt will be 8.8 per cent, with a 16 per cent increase perhaps next year, as a result of the Government's policies. But, despite that and because of steel profits being low, because of the time lost through strikes and because of the changes in wage rates, it is unlikely that there will be new investment in this industry or in many other industries. Because of the policies of the present Government business decisions are being cancelled and new investment is not taking place. Once the expansion of the Public Service ceases to hide that fact, increases in unemployment will be greater than we have seen in Australia for many years.

The Commonwealth Public Service has been used as a pacesetter through the provision of 4 weeks annual leave, wage increases and the promise in relation to the 35-hour week. But, of course, we all remember the occasion when the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), who is now sitting at the table, told a slightly red faced Prime Minister that he could not have it both ways. That was a surprise to this Prime Minister because he is so used to trying to have it both ways. But the statement by the Minister for Labour was an honest one and I respect him for it. I hope that it might be the first sign of some sanity in Labor policies generally. I hope that the Minister for Labour will be able to stand up to the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party who is also the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, in introducing this kind of sanity into labour relations. It will be difficult to see who wins. But the contest will be interesting because they are both formidable people.

In relation to the New South Wales power strike, the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who has now left the chamber, played a shameful role. Me wrote a secret letter to the Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council, basically instructing that power be cut and provided in conformity with the demands of the power unions. I have asked the Minister, as other people have asked him, to table the minutes of the last 4 meetings of the Snowy Mountains Council. But we have not had that. We have had what purport to be the minutes of the last 4 meetings of that Council, but the Minister has skilfully forgotten to table or has avoided tabling - I suggest quite deliberately - the record and the minutes of the meeting held on Sunday, 23 September. That was the critical meeting, the decisions of which the Minister overrode by his directive. In that instance, he gave support to the 35-Hour Week Committee against industrial law, against the New South Wales Government - that is not surprising - and also against the people of New South Wales. It was in an effort to cover his Minister's moves that the Prime Minister offered the services of a judge to the New South Wales Government.

Before 2 December, Australia was promised industrial peace. The result of the election of this Government, as we know, is that time lost as a result of industrial disputes has increased greatly and the amount of wages lost has almost doubled. The attitudes expressed by this Government have contributed to that result. The industrial proposals of the Minister for Labour are interesting. Two years ago he had a policy which, I think, some of us on this side of the House might almost have supported - at least in part. Sanctions and penalties were to be even. A $20 a day fine was to be imposed on unionists. That policy lasted 36 hours. It was taken straight out of Part X of the Act which the Minister has sought to have repealed. My hope was that he would not have it repealed. Well, he will not repeal it because it is one of our amendments which he has decided is sensible and ought to be accepted.

In autumn last, there was one-sided legislation involving the removal of penalties from one of the parties to industrial disputes but leaving penalties on the other party. I hold the view that the great majority of people in Australia believe that governments ought to behave even-handedly in these matters and that if penalties are to be available for application against one party they ought also to be available for application against another who breaks an agreement or an award. One of the proposals from the Minister for Labour which will be found to be unworkable and which will not assist the cause of industrial peace is his proposal for industrial democracy. It would pose significant problems for many unions in relation to the employment of their own employees and would be quite impossible of application in the Minister's own old union, the Australian Workers Union, in relation to the approval of agreements. Be that as it may, there is no evidence that what the Minister has proposed would lead to greater industrial peace.

I come to the catalogue of broken promises from this Government. I have mentioned one - industrial peace. In May and June of last year, the present Prime Minister promised quite categorically to maintain aid for independent schools and to maintain aid in any form already existing. One of his promises was made before 4,000 people and a record of his words is available. Letters to the National Council of Independent Schools towards the end of last year confirmed those views. The terms of reference for the Karmel Committee gave some confidence to people who otherwise might have been concerned about that promise. Then, the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) tabled a copy of a letter that he had written to Professor Karmel on 13 April. We are not sure whether there is a letter from the Prime Minister to Professor Karmel, giving indications of Government policy to Professor Karmel, on or about the same date. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was quite unable to answer the question whether he had or had not written such a letter. His equivocation and evasion on that issue surely would indicate that there had been communication. That, at least, is what the public will believe until the Prime Minister is prepared to come clean and to table the letters, if there have been such letters.

We know of the broken promise in relation to defence in that 2.9 per cent and not the promised 3.5 per cent of the gross national product has been allocated for defence purposes. Decisions made in this area have been decisions to defer, to cancel or to postpone certain defence requirements. By 1980, there will not be 3 escorts that the Navy can keep permanently at sea. Even now, troops cannot be moved by sea from Melbourne to Perth. We were promised no increase in taxation. But personal income tax has been increased by $l,100m. We were promised that inflation would be controlled. But inflation is running at nearly 15 per cent. We were promised low interest rates. But interest rates are the highest for 100 years. Rural industries were promised protection. They have had wonderful protection! They have been raped by this Government and by those people who, before the election, had done most to suggest that a Labor government would be concerned for the wellbeing of our rural communities.

In autumn last, we were promised a double dissolution on legislation relating to industrial matters and also electoral matters. Where now are the confidence and the zeal? Where now are the hopes for the new society which Labor said it wanted to establish? There will not be any double dissolution on either of those issues because the Government knows quite well that the power and seats will come to our parties and to the Leader of the Opposition at the first chance that is available. The Government promised funds for local government. There are no funds for local government. The Government promised consultation and co-operation with our near neighbours. Prime Minister Harry Lee has shown that that promise is as broken and as abandoned as much else that this Government has done.

The Prime Minister has shown contempt for the Parliament. Statements have been made outside the Parliament which in other days would always have been made in the Parliament. He has refused to make policy statements in the House and prefers to make such statements to the Press. It is quite unprecedented, on an occasion such as this when a major censure motion has been moved against the Government, for the Prime Minister to speak and then to leave the Parliament. The Prime Minister has abandoned the Parliament. He has abandoned the Government. He has abandoned his supporters.

Mr Riordan - He is in Albury.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - What he is doing there is more important than the fate of the Government. The censure motion on the Prime Minister and the Government is a matter of major importance. In the short time that I have been able to look at the matter and that the parliamentary library research service and other experts have been able to look at the matter, I can find no record of any other Prime Minister walking out on a censure motion the way this Prime Minister has walked out on this censure motion.

There is disillusion and uncertainty in the general community. When Government members go back to their electorates there is a great deal of disillusion and uncertainty amongst them. Why was there not a double dissolution on the original industrial legislation or on the electoral legislation? There are fears for the future in the minds of many people. In the long term there are fears for the very jobs on which people depend because they know that investment is running down. There is fear in the motor industry because of the invitations to Nissan and Toyota. In Caucus there is distrust of Cabinet. Many decisions have been overturned. In Cabinet there is distrust of the Prime Minister. We all remember the decision that all 27 Ministers had to be in Cabinet at once. This will be a one term government. Whenever an election is held - whenever the Government is game to go to the polls - Bill Snedden, Leader of the Opposition, will see that the Government is put out of office and that the coalition parties are put back into office.

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