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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6214


Mr Robert Brown asked the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business, upon notice, on 6 April 1998:

(1) Is Rio Tinto (a) a transnational company jointly based in the UK and Australia and (b) the world's largest private mining company.

(2) Has his attention been drawn to claims that Rio Tinto (a) has earned a reputation for conflict with local communities, trade unions, human rights and environmental groups where it is engaged in mining and (b) is being sued in the UK for compensation for cancer allegedly resulting from working conditions at its uranium operations in Namibia.

(3) Has his attention also been drawn to criticism of Rio Tinto by Amnesty International and the Australian arm of Oxfam for its treatment of indigenous people in Indonesia.

(4) Is it a fact that Rio Tinto (a) is attempting to de-unionise its operations in Australia and (b) has made awards to workers at an Australian coal mine for producing coal without union involvement.

(5) Did Rio Tinto provide specialist staff to assist the Government to draft industrial legislation; if so, was the legislation subsequently found by the International Labour Organisation Committee of Experts to breach international labour law regarding the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively.

(6) What measures will the Government implement to ensure that Rio Tinto operates in Australia (a) with full respect for human rights and labour rights and (b) to high standards for occupational health and safety and environmental protection.


Mr Reith (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) (a) Yes.

(b) I cannot confirm whether Rio Tinto holds such a position. I am advised, however, that Rio Tinto describes itself as `one of the world's leading mining and resources groups'.

(2) (a) I am aware that claims of this nature have been made against Rio Tinto by various unions, particularly the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). However, I am advised that Rio Tinto has strongly denied them.

(b) No.

(3) I am aware of general media coverage reporting criticism of Rio Tinto's human rights record. However, I am not aware of any specific criticisms by Amnesty International or the Australian arm of Oxfam.

I have been recently informed that Amnesty International has expressed its regret to Rio Tinto that it may have been used to support a union industrial and political campaign against the mining group.

I understand that Amnesty International has asked that its name not be used on any further campaign material or public statements that imply Amnesty supports a campaign against Rio Tinto.

(4) (a) This is a matter that should be raised directly with Rio Tinto itself. However, I can confirm that Rio Tinto has publicly denied that it is attempting to de-unionise its operations in Australia.

Rio Tinto has indicated it is pursuing its right to negotiate the reform of work practices that inhibit Australia's ability to compete internationally.

(b) I am aware of media reports that suggest such an event took place.

(5) Mr Michael Angwin, Chief Adviser, Employee Relations, with CRA Limited (now Rio Tinto), was a member of the Task Force that advised the Government in 1996 on the development of the workplace relations legislation. Mr Angwin was not involved in the drafting of the legislation—it was drafted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and reflects the intention of the Parliament.

The International Labour Organisation's Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has made some observations on Australia's application of Convention No 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining). The observations were made in the context of the CEACR's examination of reports submitted by International Labour Organisation (ILO) member States in accordance with Article 22 of the ILO Constitution about the application of Convention No 98.

The Government disagrees with the Committee's comments about the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (`the Act'). The Committee's comments on aspects of the Act indicate that it appears to have overlooked a number of key provisions. It also failed to examine the provisions in their proper context and misunderstood the relationship between the various provisions of the Commonwealth legislation, the application of the legislation by Australian Courts and Tribunals, and the relationship with relevant State legislation and the common law.

In examining Australia's report on compliance with ILO Convention No.98, Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949, the Committee had before it representations made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). The Government considers the ACTU's claims to be without foundation, and responded to them in a submission to the Committee of Experts which supplemented the response already given to the usual questionnaire on Australia's compliance with the Convention. However, the Committee dealt with the matter without taking into account the Government's supplementary submission. The Committee's report to the International Labour Conference specifically acknowledges that fact.

Australia will respond to the Committee of Experts' observation in accordance with the ILO's reporting requirements.

(6) (a) and (b) The Government expects all companies operating in Australia, whether Australian owned or multinational, to comply with Australia's laws, including those relating to workplace relations, occupational health and safety and the environment.