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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4439

Senator FORSHAW(4.50 p.m.) —I rise to make some remarks on this very excellent annual report of the Industrial Registry of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. At the outset I have to make a confession to the chamber. I actually was a trade union official for some 18 years and I spent many hours appearing in the Industrial Relations Commission—or as it was previously called, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. On a number of occasions I appeared with the good Senator Crane.

I was very interested in Senator Crane's remarks towards the end of his speech when he was actually praising the commission and saying that they might get some new offices in Perth and Darwin. I fear, Senator Crane, that if the workplace relations bill provisions which seek to emasculate, if not destroy, the work of the commission ever come to pass in the form that they are at the moment then you will not be needing any new offices because there will not be any role for the commission at all.

That will be a shame because this report details superbly the excellent work that is being done by the Industrial Relations Commission in terms of both the appointed members of that commission and also the various administrative functions, including the registry.  Details are provided with respect to the members of the commission.

One of the great things about the former C and A Commission and the now Industrial Relations Commission is the wealth of experience of its members. They come from areas such as the business community, the professional business organisations, farmers organisations—as Senator Crane once represented—trade unions, companies, the public sector, the legal profession and a range of other disciplines. All of these people bring countless years of experience to industrial relations issues.

Unfortunately, the attitude of the government is that all of that is going to be ignored, thrown out and cast into the dustbin of history under the proposals that they have. Their proposals—as contained in proposed section 89A and section 44 of the bill—will take the award regulation functions away from the commission, whereby awards of the commission will simply be varied by legislation to exclude a whole range of provisions.

I raise that particular issue because I would like to refer specifically to section 150A, review process, detailed on pages 5 and 6 of the report. It indicates that the commission has produced a resource book, Making federal awards simpler, which is a guide to reviewing federal awards as required under section 150A of the current act. The Industrial Relations Commission, over a number of years, as a result of the various amendments put through by the former Labor government and as a result of the orderly transition to a process involving enterprise bargaining coupled with the safety net of award regulation, has been involved in cooperating with the industrial parties, both on the employers' and the employees' side, to update and to modernise awards.

That is not sufficient for this government, notwithstanding, as this report notes, that that process has had the enthusiastic participation of the industrial parties. This government wants to undo all of that good work, all of that cooperative work, which has seen the lowest level of industrial disputation in this country in living memory. The good work that is recorded in this report, which went towards modernising awards, promoting enterprise bargaining but at the same time underpinning it with a safety net award system, is, unfortunately, at grave peril, at grave risk as a result of the workplace relations bill.

I can only endorse the comments of Senator Hogg when he said that this may well be—or it will be—the last report of this nature as a result of the proposals contained in the government's current legislation. I commend this report to the Senate and I commend it to members of the government. They should read it, take time to understand it and rethink their current industrial relations policies. (Time expired)