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Friday, 13 December 1996
Page: 8704

Mr McCLELLAND(12.48 a.m.) —The opposition, as pointed out by the shadow minister, substantially agrees with the transfer of jurisdiction from the Victorian system. However, I would like to point out some inconsistencies in the reasoning of my colleagues on the other side, if only to get them to think about these issues in formulating their policy.

Clearly, the message that comes from my colleagues in government is that they think this transfer is highly desirable and they regard it as so for a number of reasons including reducing technicalities, costs and things of that nature. The member for Dickson (Mr Tony Smith) indicated he favoured it because it was an example of cooperative federalism. I think all the speakers who have spoken for the government have suggested that this transfer would not have occurred if it had not been for the election of a Liberal government on 2 March, and that is quite right.

But the paucity of logic in that analysis is that you cannot have powers flowing to and from the states depending upon which political party is in power either federally or at a state level. It will not work. As pointed out, there have been instances in recent history where Labor governments were in power in most states and also federally. It may or may not be the case for a variety of reasons that the states want to hand over their powers to the federal system.

What I am saying, therefore, is that there is some inconsistency in the logic of the government members in favouring this advancing of federalism, but not looking at it with intellectual honesty as to how it can be achieved. The reality is that it will not happen entirely from cooperation. The fact is that it is most unlikely that there will be a coincidence of federal and state governments in power or that the political pressures in the states will be such that they will willingly transfer their powers.

My point in all this is that federalism, particularly in industrial relations, is not only highly desirable but, when we increasingly have to focus on our export industry, I submit that it is also essential. If you are going to do it, do it properly and look at the full range of federal powers available to use.

With respect to the member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur), he, again, replicated some inconsistency that has been revealed by the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Reith), who on a number of occasions, particularly in question time, has got stuck into the opposition for relying on ILO convention 158 for the unfair dismissal provisions. But when you look at the current provisions in the Liberal government's act, it replicates and reproduces a reliance on ILO convention 158. So there is an inconsistency in the public position of the government and what the experts behind the scenes are doing to try to achieve the result—that is, to rely on the full gamut of powers, whether they be, as the member for Dickson pointed out, trade and commerce, external affairs or the corporations power.

My point is that if you are going to do it, do it honestly, do it openly and do it properly. Look at all those powers and do the task. Do not mouth supposed gestures towards states rights. At the same time, get the experts behind the scenes to rely on the totality of the armoury. There is room for logic and there is room for honesty and the government should approach its policy position on that basis.

The other point I was going to make is that the significance of the government's steps here have been overstated. For instance, on the one hand, again, we have seen the inconsistency of mouthing this beneficial federalism. But when you look at the actual provisions of the workplace relations bill, they have actually walked away from federalism. For instance, an amendment to section 128 of the act will now actually preclude the federal commission from intervening in state proceedings if that state proceeding is considering a state industrial agreement or the approval of that agreement. Again, that is watering down the powers of the federal commission.

The other relevant provision is the addition of a new section 152(3) which specifically states that the federal act will not intrude into the area of state employment agreements. So on the one hand we have the minister voicing and favouring federalism but on the other hand his actions in the act demonstrate an inconsistency because he is watering down federal powers.

What I am saying to the government is: get your focus in order. You don't need to cringe about federalism when federalism is desirable, as it clearly is here. Be honest about it, rely on the full powers and do it properly. Don't do it by supposed concoctions and formulas and have inconsistencies in the existing provision.

For instance, this legislation is not going to be so straightforward. Although there will be scope for a lot of Victorian employers who simply have local disputes to come into the federal system, the reality is that the federal system can still operate and intrude into the Victorian system by virtue of interstate industrial disputes extending into Victorian territory. The bill, as I read it, is quite silent as to how the federal commission is going to deal with an argument as to whether a dispute is entirely Victorian or Victorian extending interstate. That is going to be the source of quite some argument and quite some discussion and quite some cost.

Again, it is something which has not been done entirely properly. It has been a desirable step forward but not a full and complete step forward. Indeed, my point is this: you are not going to have a full and complete step forward until you look at honestly saying, `This is an area where federal law should prevail. If it means overriding states rights, let's be honest about it, but let's do it.' Don't cringe from the intellectual honesty of stating when something is desirably a federal matter; take the bull by the horns and do it properly. You have not done that here.

What I am saying to government members is: there is no need to cringe, you are in government, you are professionals. Look at what you are about to achieve, look at how to achieve it and do it properly without being hamstrung by any underlying prejudices about necessarily preserving states rights for the sake of preserving states rights when it is quite illogical, inconsistent and impedes overall efficiency. Given the hour, that is about all I will say on the scope of the legislation. I will not venture into the actual technicalities that have been covered by the shadow minister.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.