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Tuesday, 1 November 1983
Page: 2133


Mr RONALD EDWARDS(8.37) —The Public Service and Statutory Authorities Amendment Bill and cognate Bills constitute an important part of the prices and incomes accord of this Government. They also honour an obligation of this Government to try to restore a degree of equity and reasonableness into industrial relations. If one had to make an observation about the previous Government in one area of its management it would be that its management of its own employees left a lot to be desired. These Bills set about to try to restore some degree of sanity into that framework. It seemed to be a matter of great concern amongst many people in the federal Public Service, members of the Australian Clerical Officers Association and the Australian Public Service Association, that they had somehow been singled out by the previous Government for some specialised treatment, treatment that a responsible employer would not have directed towards his or her employees. With that in mind, this Government, as part of its obligation to the Federal Public Service and as part of the structure of the prices and incomes accord, introduced these Bills. I believe they are very important because, as employees of the Government and as managers of our own employees we must set standards of conduct that our employees and the general community would regard as being fair and reasonable. Arising out of the National Economic Summit Conference in April this year we began to see the establishment of a degree of consensus with respect to both private sector employees and employers. We are seeking to extend that degree of consensus into the Federal Public Service arena. I believe these are very important matters. The other important issue that has to be addressed in this debate is that we, on this side of the chamber, have held for quite some time that the role of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is very important and central to the conduct of industrial relations in Australia. We believe that that Commission represents the appropriate arena into which employers and employees should take their disputes about matters arising in the work place. The thrust of this legislation, in fact, is to move these matters back into that arena. The previous Government tried, in a sense, to remove the capacity of employees, particularly ACOA and APSA members, to go to those tribunals. We believe that it is very important that they be able to do so.

One piece of legislation which really produced a great deal of anger among Federal Public Service members was the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill. That Bill was introduced by the previous Government in 1977. That, of course, produced a great deal of anger amongst members. Industrial disputes within Telecom Australia were some of the most bitter and grevious that we have seen in Australia. In the Federal electorate of Stirling at the Telecom Balcatta exchange even Commonwealth police-or the Australian Federal Police as they are now known-were used to arrest members of the ACOA when they turned up at their work place. I believe that when that sort of thing happens within the conduct of a Government's operations that Government stands condemned because it has had to use police in an arena in which we would not believe that the use of police was the appropriate way to proceed.

Clearly, when the previous Government had to use police to direct and control its employees it had a lot to learn in terms of setting standards as managers. The electorate, of course, learned. The previous Government was tossed out of office. But in the electorate of Stirling the issue in the Telecom Balcatta exchange is still a major one. The CE(EP) Act, as it was referred to, is a matter which still produces great bitterness. It caused great divisions between management and employees in Telecom. If that sort of move had been carried out by a private employer we would have wanted to react negatively by saying: 'It is about time you learnt some good industrial relations'. But unfortunately the previous Government seemed to think that that was the way to carry on. When a dispute reaches a stage where people are being stood down and forcibly removed from the work place by police one must wonder what is the thrust of industrial relations as far as the Government is concerned. Our view very clearly is that that is not the way to proceed in industrial relations. The way to proceed is to remove from the statute area such provisions which will add to industrial conflict. It is quite clear, as has been told to us by members of the ACOA and by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as the peak council, that these sorts of pieces of legislation are the ones that damage good industrial relations. That is why we believe it is very important in this sort of debate to realise that provisions such as those contained in these Bills will do much to improve industrial relations within the Federal Public Service arena.

I add one or two more comments. One of the things we are saying-this must be understood in the context of this discussion and by the wider community-is that, as I said earlier, we believe it ought to be possible for people to appeal to the appropriate industrial tribunals to settle industrial disputes. These Bills, in effect, allow Federal public servants access to those tribunals. We believe that that is the way in which industrial relations should be conducted. We believe that that is the way to ensure a degree of equity and fairness. We believe the Government, as a trendsetter in industrial relations and in setting the atmosphere for good industrial relations, should proceed in that way. That point needs to be understood in the context of debates such as this. It is not, as might be argued, a way of simply opening the gates for Federal public servants to behave in ways in which members of other unions might not behave. In fact, we are restoring equity between the Federal Public Service and its counterparts in private industry.

We have seen that it is possible to build up good will and good faith with respect to private industry. The Summit, as I mentioned earlier, established that point. These Bills reflect the continuance of that. I have had many discussions with members of the ACOA and the APSA which indicated that these were very important items on their agenda. They recognise that in the context of wage movements in Australia at the moment it has not been possible to achieve rapid increases in wages and salaries. They recognise that they have lost their relativity. From the mid-1970s the relativity of APSA and ACOA members has declined in relation to the general community. But it needs to be understood that wages are only one of the factors in establishing good industrial relations . One of the other factors, of course, is what might be called the area of management prerogative. These Bills reflect that area. The Government, as a manager, is saying: 'We want to conduct our industrial relations in such a fair and equitable way that our employees and the general community will recognise that that is the way to behave'.

I suggest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the House and to the community generally that these Bills represent an important move in industrial relations. I believe the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) deserves considerable credit for bringing them forward at such an early stage. They honour part of our prices and incomes accord. They reflect a view that we have that our employees are important and valuable. We ought to set a standard as managers. We ought to be seen to be behaving reasonably and equitably. I believe that these Bills indicate to our employees and to the community generally that this is the way to conduct industrial relations. In closing, I can only congratulate the Minister for his wisdom in bringing forward these Bills. I commend them to the House.