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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 16

(Question No. 1396)

Senator Jones asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice, on 25 September 1986:

(1) Has the attention of the Minister for Trade been drawn to a report in the Australian Financial Review of 27 August 1986 which indicates Peko-Wallsend's three partners in the Robe River project, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Nippon Steel, are unhappy with the way Peko's industrial relations tactics have been handled.

(2) What is the potential damage to two-way trade with Japan in economic and employment terms caused by the intransigent attitude of the Peko-Wallsend company towards basic industrial relations, given that the Japanese, who have a combined equity of 45.5 per cent in Robe River, have clearly stated they want the current industrial dispute resolved as soon as possible, within established institutions and with close co-operation with the West Australian Government.

(3) What measures are available to the Federal Government to (a) intervene in the Robe River dispute; and (b) provide assurance to the Japanese Government and industrialists in that country that the stand of the Peko-Wallsend management is not the forerunner of similar attempts by Australian company managements to destroy the established conciliation and arbitration system in Australia.

Senator Button —The Minister for Trade has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) Any potential damage to our iron ore trade with Japan arising from the attitude of Peko-Wallsend towards industrial relations will hopefully not spread to the rest of the iron ore industry. What is at risk is Robe River's iron ore exports to Japan which provide the bulk of Robe River's earnings. Any diminution in those exports could affect adversely the employment base of the Robe River project. More generally, the unnecessarily and deliberately provocative industrial disruption engineered by Peko-Wallsend at Robe River has wider national ramifications insofar as it compromises Australia's recently successful efforts to project an improved international image as a reliable and competitive supplier. This is particularly important in the context of Australia's current balance of payments difficulties and in terms of the future relationship with our major trading partner, Japan.

(3a) The principal concern of the Federal Government, in association with the Western Australian Government, is to encourage a negotiated settlement within the established industrial relations framework in Western Australia, which would address constructively the issues of employment, maintenance of export revenues and stabilisation of supplies to our overseas customers. Consistent with that objective, the Federal Government sought, and was granted, leave to intervene in current proceedings regarding Robe River in the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. These proceedings involve an application by Peko-Wallsend to secure federal award coverage for Robe River operations. A formal dispute has been found by the Conciliation and arbitration Commission (this is the first step in these proceedings). However that finding is presently subject to appeal by the mining unions and determination of federal award coverage has been deferred pending resolution of that appeal.

(3b) The Government is not in a position to give assurances about how individual companies may act on industrial relations issues. The Japanese Government and industry are aware, nevertheless, that the overwhelming majority of Australian companies do not subscribe to the Peko-Wallsend confrontational approach to industrial relations issues. The Government also remains firmly opposed to the irresponsible, unproductive and economically debilitating industrial relations policies adopted by the Robe River management.