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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 328


Mr CHYNOWETH —Has the Minister for Industrial Relations seen reports that the Victorian government is conducting a review of its Employment Contracts Act in response to the passage of the federal government's Industrial Relations Reform Bill late last year? Can the minister tell the House what impact the federal Industrial Relations Reform Act will have on state industrial relations systems, such as the one in Victoria?


Mr BRERETON —I thank the honourable member for Dunkley for his question. It has taken just over a year for the industrial relations white flag to go up over Spring Street and the office of the Victorian Minister for Industry and Employment, Phil Gude.

  Government members—Who? Who?


Mr BRERETON —Phil Gude. Yesterday a headline in the Age reported that Mr Gude was embarking upon a review of the Kennett government's Employee Relations Act and that, to quote him, `the review would be from the front cover to the back cover'. It has taken just over a year for this to happen. Amongst the things under consideration in that review are—wait for it; here it comes—minimum standards in line with the ILO conventions that we legislated for in this parliament last year.


Mr Keating —Well, well, well!


Mr BRERETON —And it does not end there. Further consideration is to be given to the reintroduction of compulsory arbitration. Remember compulsory arbitration? It is coming back in Victoria. One does not have to be Einstein to know that the review has been prompted by the fact that several hundred thousand workers have now left the Victorian system and come under federal award coverage as a result of the Victorian legislation. This review has come about as a result of the fact that that legislation has not worked and is not working and that the individual contract low wage route that the Victorian government embarked upon has been a dismal failure. All that confrontation, conflict and bitterness and all those hundreds of thousands of people dragged into the street protesting has come to absolutely nothing in legislative terms.

  Now we have the admission of defeat. It is disguised, of course. They say it will be a review of their legislation from the front cover to the back cover. The reality is that it is an absolute and utter capitulation. We may well ask ourselves where this capitulation leaves the honourable member for Bennelong, the shadow minister for industrial relations, who has been the federal champion of this route—the low wage route, the individual contract route. He is the man who inspired the legislation that is now being reviewed in Victoria. It leaves his party here in the national parliament with a failed policy, a policy that he still refuses to change, except for the $3 youth wage which he said that he would get out of because it really was not his idea. It was legislation proposed by his embattled leader; it was never part of his plan. But all the rest of it remains on all fours.

  Mr Speaker, it may have escaped the honourable member for Bennelong but I would think that the lessons of Victoria have not escaped the new Liberal government in South Australia. In Western Australia the Liberal and National parties there are determined to follow the Victorian way; that is, to go down the route of abolishing awards and introducing individual contracts. Let me say that, inevitably, we will see the same result in Western Australia in six to 12 months time that we are seeing in Victoria today.

  The only successful path of industrial relations is this government's path, the path that has seen almost 40 per cent of all workers under federal awards now being involved in enterprise agreements, at a galloping 1,600 agreements already made and dozens more being made every week. That is protection for those workers and for the companies in which they are involved. At the same time, it is all being negotiated within the safety net of the award system so that everyone can embrace these agreements knowing that they will not be worse off at the end of the day.

  I conclude by saying that, from 31 March, when our legislation enacted by this parliament late last year becomes law, it will be available to unionists and non-unionists alike. The Victorian experiment will then be consigned to the dustbin of history. Australia will be much the better for it.