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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 7301

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS MELBOURNE - 14 MARCH 1988

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/03/1988

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 7301

PR 005067
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SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER
INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS
MELBOURNE 14 MARCH 1988
Dr Narayan,
Simon Crean,
Francis Blanchard,
John Vanderveken,
Delegates. Australians are this year celebrating the Bicentenary of
European settlement of Australia.
This milestone in our national development provides
Australians with a great opportunity to reflect on our
achievements over the past two hundred years, and recognise
as well where we can rectify shortcomings in particular to
work on ways in which we can come to an understanding of the
40,000 year heritage of the prior occupants of this land,
the Aboriginal people.
To celebrate the Bicentenary, the Federal Government is
assisting in an enormous variety of events in many of which
as Prime Minister I have had the privilege of being
involved.
Among these events, I am particularly pleased that my
Government could provide funds to assist the staging of this
Congress. This support was given in recognition of the major
contribution which the trade union movement has made, and
continues to make, to the development of the Australian
nation. For as a Labor Prime Minister and former President of the
Australian Council of Trade Unions, it is my assessment that
this Fourteenth Conference of the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions is a landmark event.
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The Congress brings us together at a time when the world
economy is experiencing stresses so extreme they threaten to
undo the framework on which the international community has
relied ' since World War II with all the dire implications
such a'reversal would have for the living standards of trade
unionists and their families.
Such a time highlights as never before the interdependence
of the economies of the world the extent to which the
prosperity of one of us depends ultimately on the& prosperity
of us all.
In such a time, international organisations including this
Confederation representating as it does the great
organisations of labour throughout the world assume
monumental importance in their capacity to transcend
sectional barriers and to act as international sounding
boards for the debate and resolution of our shared
challenges. For all these reasons, it is a pleasure to welcome you to
Australia and to the City of Melbourne, and it is an honour
to address this opening session of your Fourteenth Congress.
Despite the diversity of the nations whose trade union
movements we represent, we are united by our shared
commitment to the principles of free trade unionism.
It is regrettable therefore that not all those trade
unionists invited to the Conference have been able to take
their places here.
In particular, I must voice my most profound disappointment
at the decision of the Polish Government to refuse
permission to Lech Walesa and a number of his colleagues to
attend this Congress.
Nobody with any commitment to the trade union movement could
fail to respect the heroic efforts of Lech Walesa and the
Solidarity movement to establish free trade unionism in
Poland. My Government made a number of representations to the Polish
authorities, and I wrote personally to General Jaruzelski,
encouraging them not to stand in the way of Lech Walesa
accepting his invitation to be here.
Allowing him permission to attend this Congress would have
reflected great credit on the Polish authorities, both in
Australia and the rest of the world.
Delegates, The recent attacks on the rights of trade unions in South
Africa deserve our strongest condemnation. 005068

By its latest measures of repression, the Botha Government
has moved once again to strangle non-violent self-expression
by the black majority and to nullify the capacity of-black
working people to defend their industrial rights.
It is depressing but true that the situation of black trade
unionists in South Africa is no better and in some ways
worse in 1988 than it was at the time of the 13th Congress
in 1983.
The Australian Government fully supports attempts by trade
unionists, church people and others to oppose the draconian
new restrictions on the political activities of
extra-parliamentary opposition, human rights groups and
trade unionists.
Delegates, It is important that the ICFTU has chosen to hold its
Congress in Australia because free trade unionisfi is, and
has been for more than a century, a powerful and,
constructive force in this country and in New Zealand. In
our wider South Pacific region, trade unionism is still a
developing force in the Pacific Island states a force
which we would all wish to support and foster.
That is why the threat to trade unions in Fiji following the
two coups last year was greatly troubling to the Australian
Government and people. We made vigorous representations
about the abuses of civil and political rights following the
coups. The Government welcomes the improved situation for trade
unionists in Fiji over the past several months, as witnessed
by the ICFTU mission in January. We are, however,
monitoring developments closely and we look forward to an
early return to constitutional arrangements which protect
the rights and interests of all the peoples of Fiji
including, of course, trade unionists.
Delegates, I just mentioned Australia's long history of trade unionism.
It's worth recalling at this gathering that our association
with trade unionism in fact dates back to the earliest
decades of the nineteenth century when organised labour was
struggling to emerge in the wake of the English Industrial
Revolution.
As a penal settlement, Australia became the new home of
thousands of men and women expelled from Britain and Ireland
for crimes which today seem, in large part, ludicrously
petty. Other convicts were transported for political crimes
including some whose offences were to have helped found the
modern trade union movement. 005069

Among them were Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example, who were
convicted in 1833 for the " crime" ' of swearing a secret oath
to establish a trade union. 0
Our convict origins illustrate the harshness with which the
authorities attempted to resist the irresistible new force
of trade unionism. But they also had the beneficial effect
of enlarging the capacity of people in this country to
understand and where necessary to struggle against prejudice
pnd repression.
' Perhaps it was because of this capacity that Australians by
the 1850' s had established one of the earliest and most
successful trade union movements in the world.
That movement attained, over the next fifty years, some of
the world's earliest landmark victories in wages and
conditions. one of the world's first modern trade unions wag-founded in
this city in 1850 when twenty-five stone masons ormed
themselves into the Operative Masons Society.
In 1859 what was claimed to be the world's first Trades Hall
was founded on the site where it still stands in Carlton.
And, most dramatically, workers in Sydney and Melbourne in
1855 and 1856 won the pioneering achievemen-t of the
eight-hour working day, which meant ' a reduction in their
working week from sixty to forty-eight hours.
That achievement is still honoured today throughout
Australia with a public holiday and I can only commend
the organisers of this conference for the coincidence of
timing that brings us together on this Labor Day 1988, 132
years after the first eight hour day was won.
It was during the momentous strikes and lockouts of the
1890s that Australian workers recognised that industrial
action alone could not achieve all of their aims and
concluded that they must exercise political influence. So
they founded one of the world's first labour parties the
Australian Labor Party.
That party has matured into a political movement of national
scope, and I speak with pride today as the leader of a Labor
Party which, only three years short of its hundredth
birthday, holds office Federally and in four of the six
Australian states.
I am sketching this brief history because it is germane to
the theme which I wish to present today, and is in turn
relevant to the theme of your report " The Challenge of
Change" which you will be discussing later in this Congress. 005070

That theme is the enormous potential for the trade union
movement, in partnership with Government and business, in
managing and resolving essential economic issues confronting
a nation issues which go to the heart of job creation and
living standards.
Few here would question just how large is the challenge of
change. The symptom of the problem is the massive imbalance in the
current account positions of many countries, especially the
largest ones.
The world's major economies, notably the United States and
Japan, have to undertake large scale economic
reconstruction.
In the case of the United States, the need is to become more
export-oriented, particularly in terms of manufactures and
services. For Japan and to an extent Germany the task
is to promote production of non-traded goods and to import
more. And for all of us, developed and develbbping nations
alike, the corresponding challenge is to retain and expand
trading arrangements which are free and non-discriminatory
and to restructure our own economies to take advantage of
new trading opportunities.
Increased protectionism is not the answex. That way lie
only diminished opportunities for all our members
collectively to improve their living standards, not least
for those of our members who come from the poorest
countries. These economic challenges themselves place new demands on
trade unions demands to foster the necessary changes in
the pattern of domestic production and demand while securing
the highest sustainable living standards for all workers.
The need for these changes is buried deep in the conduct of
economic policy by the major economies over many years.
Change postponed has magnified the problem. It is in our
collective interests as free trade unionists to seek to
promote the necessary structural adjustments as quickly as
is feasible so as not to add further to the size and costs
of the eventual adjustment task..
We in Australia have had particular need to address these
problems, because we have also had to contend with a sudden,
sharp deterioration in our terms of trade. And we are proud
of the way we have worked together to meet the challenge.
The trade union move ment and the Federal Labor Government
have forged a partnership and are, together with business
leaders, managing and gradually surmounting our great
national economic challenge.,. 005071

Our partnership, embodied. in the Prices and Incomes Accord,
has allowed us to embark on e strategy which has produced
economic achievements of fundamental and lasting importance
not only to trade unionists but : to all Australians.
The Accord, drawn up in the period before the Federal
elections of 1983, was based on the realisation by both the
ACTU and the Labor Party, then in Opposition, that the
nation's economic problems would not be solved yithout a
dramatically new approach.
At the time, Australia was passing through a period of
social, economic and technological upheaval. Little had
been done to respond to the challenge posed by those
changes: there was too much confrontation and division; too
many wasted opportunities.
By 1983, the economy was in deep recession. Unemployment
had reached levels which were higher than had been
experienced at any time since the 193-0s. Inflftion stood at
double digit levels.
The basic strategy of the Acc6rd was the substitution of
consultation and co-operation'-for confrontation and
division. The Accord recognised the importance of wage justice. But
it also accepted that wage restraint was -eeded if the
national economy was to recover and if we were to rebuild
our productive capacity.
The strategy has paid off handsomely for Australians first
and foremost, through the creation of jobs at twice the rate
of the OECD average. In human-terms that means we have
together created in five years nearly one million new jobs.
Unemployment has fallen from over 10 per cent when we came
to office to 7.4 per cent today.
Inflation has fallen; interest rates are falling; economic
growth from 1983/ 84 to 1987/ 88 is expected to average around
4 per cent per annum.
Industrial disputation is now-60 per cent lower than under
the previous government. I
I list these achievements before an international audience
not to advance domestic political goals, but to sheet home
the credit for them where it in very large part belongs to
the Australian trade union movement. That role I believe
deserves international recognition and indeed serves as a
distinguished international model in these times of economic
uncertainty. Because it would have been easy for the trade union movement
to view our election in 1983, a. fter seven years of
conservative national government, as the signal for
unrestrained pressure for short term improvements in wages.
005072

That course would have reflected the traditional priority of
the trade union, movement to assist its existing employed
members through~ iincreased wages.
But the pursuit'of such a priority in the 1980s would have
been tragically shortsighted. It could only have set back
the essential national task of increasing economic
competitiveness and creating jobs for those without them.
To the lasting credit of the trade union movement, it
eschewed that course and instead, through the Accord,
adopted a new and highly constructive approach to the
management of the national economy.
This strategy was the more necessary and its success the
more remarkable because Australia suffered a sudden and
sharp deterioration of our terms of trade. This brought
into even sharper focus the need to improve our
international competitiveness in a sustained way,. by means of
a fundamental restructuring of the economy.
That necessarily demanded short term sacrifices on the part
of all Australians, including wage and salary earners.
Although money wages have continued to increase through the
centralised wage fixing mechanisms, wages in real terms have
fallen since 1985.
This has kept inflation down despite inflationary
pressures fuelled by depreciation while at the same time
helping Australian industries retain the competitive edge
which they gained from depreciation.
The current wage-fixing arrangements also provide for
trade-offs between wage increases and productivity
improvements a means of retaining competitive labour costs
while also increasing wealth-producing workplace efficiency.
The Prices and Incomes Accord also accepted that real wages
are only part of the story. Under the Accord, the
Government committed itself to lifting the social wage in
return for wage restraint. These commitments have been
honoured. Substantial additional Government assistance for low
income families;
An 8 per cent real increase in pensions for the elderly;
Greater incentive for children from lower income
families to continue education. The proportion of
students who complete secondary education has risen from
36 per cent to 53 per cent and is still rising;
A doubling of child care places; 005 073

Restoration and improvement of the system of national
health insurance, Medicare, significantly reducing the
financial burden of health costs for low income
families; and
Doubling of funds for public housing and a new scheme to
help 270,000 young families into home ownership.
Underpinning all this, we have reformed the taxation system,
ensuring that those who benefit from the returns to capital
pay their fair share of the tax burden, and that other forms
of non-wage income no longer escape taxation. As a
consequence, we have been able to reduce taxation for
ordinary wage and salary earners.
Delegates,
All this proves without doubt that an enlightened
partnership between Governments and trade unions can workand
that it can deliver benefits not just to t~ reunionists
but to all citizens.
In Australia, constructive Government-union relations are
now a fact of life.
They are an essential element of a wider network of
nation-wide consultations involving business and community
groups which are essential to the resoluti-, on of the
important issues of economic management in this country.
I have long believed and my experience in Government has
confirmed that if you make available to the people who are
affected by a decision the information which is necessary
for them to understand the reasons behind that decision; and
if indeed you involve representatives of the people in the
formulation of those decisions you will achieve two things:
A community more readily able to accept decisions,
including decisions which on their face may seem to run
counter to their immediate interests; and
A decision making process which is capable of producing
better decisions.
I know that our societies differ in many ways, reflecting as
they do the differences of history, culture, institutions
and political systems.
However this philosophy of consultation and cooperation
transcends those differences. Indeed without applying it in
our national and workplace structures, I believe we will not
be able to cope with the problems posed by what you rightly
characterise as " The Challenge of Change".
Let me describe three specific areas in which we in
Australia have implemented and found constructive this way
of addressing our national economic problems. 005074

First, at the level of macro-economic policy, was the
National Economic Summit which I convened immediately after
our 1983 election victory.
This Summit, a conference of Government, unions, employers,
farmers, consumer and other community groups, was a unique
exercise in information sharing and debate about our
economic plight and of methods of resolving it.
one of the lasting achievements of the Summit wa-s the
establishment of the representative Economic Planning
Advisory Council which continues to provide an important
forum for discussion and analysis of economic policy issues,
especially those bearing on Australia's medium to longer
term growth and development prospects.
Second, at the industry level, the tripartite Australian
manufacturing Council provides policy advice to t he
Government on the development of Australian manufacturing
industry
Through consultation, we have established industry plans
that are helping to revitalise and restructure the mature
sectors of Australian industry, such as steel, heavy
engineering, motor vehicles, and textiles, clothing and
footwear.
Third, at the workplace level, we have em ' barked on a major
program to eliminate restrictive work and~ hmanagement
practices practices which had been adopted in easier times
but which now retard the growth of Australian living
standards.
Also at the workplace level, we are keen to promote
increased industrial democracy. Genuine industrial
democracy can increase productivity, decrease confrontation
and strikes, and generally promote a constructive sense of
identification by workers with and involvement in the
decisions which affect a large proportion of their life.
I do not underestimate the difficulties of breaking down the
obstacles in the path towards real industrial democracy.
But we are again through information sharing and
consultation making progress towards this goal.
Delegates, It is apparent from what I have said in this forum and
elsewhere that I believe the world is at a crucial stage
in its economic and political development.
It is, I hope, equally apparent that I believe we in
Australia have developed methods of consultation and
co-operation which, in our context at least, are relevant to
meeting the challenge of change, and which are proving to be
useful means of fairly distributing the burdens and benefits
of change. 005075

I trust that over the next few days, delegates to this
Congress will be able to address, formally and informally,
the fundamental task of understanding and mastering those
processes of change.
We live in times of uncertainty, but that should only
encourage us in the search for answers.
We can take comfort from the fact that on even the most
fundamental threat facing us the threat of nuclear
annihilation the processes of careful negotiation are
yielding positive results.
The recent agreement by the superpowers to eliminate an
entire class of nuclear weapons gives us hope that future
negotiations may lead to further cuts in the arsenals.
For trade unionists, there could be no more inspiring
prospect than that the resources now consumed by tfre
accumulation of the weapons of war might be redire. ted for
the purposes of peace and development. O 507

Transcript 7301