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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1489

Mr N.A. Brown(3.16) —Today is indeed a very significant day for the Opposition and for those in the wider community who have long advocated reform of our industrial relations system. It is a significant day today because we read in the newspapers of the Business Council of Australia's industrial relations policy which was released yesterday. That policy statement released yesterday is without any doubt an unqualified endorsement by a major group of employers in this country, who employ between them over one million workers, of all that we on the Opposition side of the Parliament have been advocating in industrial relations for the last four years. It is without any shadow of doubt whatsoever a very substantial endorsement of the industrial relations policy that the coalition parties released in May of 1986.

It is significant because, when we in the Opposition, and those in the wider community, started to chart a course some few years ago for a more flexible and deregulated industrial relations system and one that is more in tune with the real work-place and the market reality of our industry in this country, we were derided and pilloried by the Government and by its supporters in the trade union movement. We were derided and pilloried particularly by the current Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and by his Treasurer (Mr Keating). For instance, who can forget the Press conference that the Minister gave in May last year when our industrial relations policy was issued. The Minister went on the record and said that the complete policy, irrespective of what part of activity it dealt with in the industrial relations area, was no use to man nor beast and he rejected it in totality. Who can forget the many occasions in this House when the Treasurer has got on his high horse and said: `Well no one in the business community supports you on industrial relations anyway'. He has repeated it time and again.

Mr Carlton —That is right and he was telling lies.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member for Mackellar was cautioned yesterday about interjecting that people are lying or telling lies. I ask him to withdraw again and warn him again that that sort of interjection is unacceptable.

Mr Carlton —I withdraw, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr N.A. Brown —But, since that tirade of abuse that came at us from the other side of the Parliament, of course a very significant thing has happened. What has happened is that the wheel has slowly turned. What has happened is that the debate has moved on. Not only has the debate moved on but it has moved on to a clear position where it is the Opposition parties, and those outside this Parliament who support us, who are leading the debate for a better industrial relations system in this country. It is the Government that has lagged terribly behind in this debate.

We are in a position now-let us look at this-where the broad thrust of our industrial relations policy is supported in the first place by the Confederation of Australian Industry. It is clearly and actively supported by the National Farmers Federation on behalf of the rural community-and not only the employers in that community. It is clearly supported by the Australian Small Business Association and other small business associations who know from their personal experience just how much the present system is harming small business.

Today, as this final endorsement, we have an unqualified endorsement from the Business Council of Australia representing, as I said before the Minister came into the House, employers who between them employ in this country over one million workers. We have now on the record a quite unequivocal endorsement of all that we have stood for and of all that we have argued for. What is it that the Business Council of Australia advocated yesterday when it produced its industrial relations statement? It is stated all too clearly in the title of the document that the Business Council launched yesterday, which is simply `Towards an Enterprise Based Industrial Relations System'. How accurately that sums up this far more intelligent and sensible approach to industrial relations and wage fixing in this country, which we have advocated now for so long and which is now so actively supported by a wide range of community opinion. The Business Council is saying in that simple, straightforward description in the title of its policy that we will have a better wage fixing system, a fairer wage fixing system, a wage fixing system which benefits workers and employers far more than the present system and which benefits the economic progress of this country far more than the present universal, compulsory, centralised wage fixing system, which is one of those institutions that have held Australia back.

Not only is that point made so clearly in the title; it is made in the six basic points that the Business Council put forward in its policy statement. Firstly, it says: `Companies will negotiate directly with their employees or their representatives to achieve enterprise level agreements'. That is the principal proposition contained in the policy statement. The second proposition, which flows from that, is that those agreements between employees and employers will be binding and enforceable by law, a law which, according to the Business Council-and we agree with it 100 per cent-should apply to all, whether one is a trade union official, a representative of an employer organisation, an employer or an employee. That is a very fundamental principle, endorsing as it does so much in our policy that we should all be equal before the law.

The third proposition is that there should be performance-related rewards, profit sharing and similar arrangements to encourage productivity increase in enterprise in this country. We say-and in fact the workers of this country say without any qualification at all-that if people are given a stake in the prosperity of the firm that employs them, if they are given a chance to advance their own prosperity at the same time that the prosperity of their employers is advanced, they will work harder and produce more, that the firm will generate more employment and that as a result of the incentive which is generated, the firm will expand and prosper, and with it the entire country. The Business Council, fourthly, says that if we can get this flexibility into the work arrangements we will be able to achieve at the work place level far more sensible working hours, spread of hours, work practices, job structures and classifications of work. We support the Council on that also.

Fifthly-a thing which always sends this Minister into orbit-the Business Council says that we should have a dose of freedom in this country and have voluntary unionism. It supports us on that, which we have advocated now for so long. Sixthly, it says, as we do, that this Government's commitment to the Hancock report, although it seems to be crippled in its ability to get its legislation in, to strengthen the present centralised system and to oppose any advance towards flexibility is the wrong approach. That is the commitment of the Business Council of Australia and it is our commitment.

Its opening proposition and these six basic points from the Business Council's statement make it perfectly plain that we have now from one of the largest business organisations in this country an unqualified support for those propositions that we have argued for in industrial relations now for so long. It is not just the Business Council of Australia; it is the public at large. If one looks at the gallup poll taken on this subject one will find that the majority of the people of this country-I emphasise that it is a majority of the work force of this country-are not in favour of the Australian Conciliation and Abitration Commission or industrial tribunals having the major role in wage fixing. The Business Council wants scope for enterprise-based agreements just as much as we do.

The Minister, who supports the present system without any change, supports compulsory unionism without notification and supports leaving our present rigid industrial relations system in place, now has behind him a formidable array of people who frankly do not agree with him. How is this for a list set against him? First of all, the public. Secondly, the Business Council of Australia, as we know from today. Thirdly, the Australian Federation of Employers. Fourthly, the Australian Small Business Association and the other small business organisations. Fifthly, the National Farmers Federation and, I venture to say, the entire rural community by now. Sixthly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which has published a report to which, in fact, a prominent member of the Arbitration Commission, Mr Deputy President Isaacs, contributed. Seventhly, Moody's Investor Services, which said some months ago that, unless we change our industrial relations systems and get some flexibility into it, this country is heading down a very rocky road in terms of how the rest of the world is going to look at us. Lastly, there is an army now of editorial opinion in probably every newspaper in Australia.

It is not a bad achievement to have the public, virtually every employer organisation, virtually the entire rural community, the OECD, Moody's Investor Services-and, might I add, Mr Charlie Fitzgibbon-opposed to the Minister because of his refusal to introduce flexibility into this system. That is the army that the Minister now has arrayed against him. He has on his side the Australian Council of Trade Unions and those elements in the trade union movement who frankly want nothing more than to protect their own monopoly position and their own exclusive privilege.

The simple point that we want to make today is that the debate has moved on from the time when we laid down this industrial relations policy which is now so widely accepted by the business community and by the public at large. The debate has moved away from the rigidity of the present system; it has moved away from the essentially compulsory nature of the present system; and it has moved away from the commitment to trade union power and compulsory unionism. It is a debate which has now moved towards flexibility where people recognise the advantage of having a more flexible wage fixing system. It has moved towards productivity-based agreements. It has moved, at long last, thank heavens, heavily in favour of voluntary trade unionism, and it has moved very definitely in favour of a reduction in extreme trade union power.

As this debate has moved on, the Government and its paymasters in the union movement frankly are now lagging miserably behind in this whole debate. As this debate has moved on we have seen signposts which are quite significant decisions. We have seen the signpost in the Mudginberri case which enforced the effectiveness of section 45d of the Trade Practices Act. We have seen the second signpost in the Dollar Sweets case, in which we saw that at least the common law courts are not prepared to stand by in the face of union thuggery. We have seen, in Mr Hein's case last week, that at least one tribunal in Australia will stand up for the rights of people who do not want to be dragooned and bludgeoned into trade unions.

What we say to the Minister on this occasion is this. We are now supported by the Business Council of Australia and virtually the entire Australian community. What does the Government say about the industrial relations policy that the BCA launched yesterday? Does the Government support it or reject it? If the Government rejects it, where does it reject it and why? Is the Government going to take some steps to get some common sense and flexibility into the system? Is it going to take some steps to get extreme trade unionism under control? If it will not do that, it will stand condemned, and deservedly so, by the entire business community and this country as a whole.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —(Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.