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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1495


Mr McARTHUR(3.47) — What a remarkable speech has been made by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis). The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr N. A. Brown), put forward a proposition about the great support in the community for our industrial relations policy. The Business Council of Australia supported that policy yesterday. The Minister has not refuted one policy statement that the Deputy Leader put forward.


Mr N.A. Brown —Not one.


Mr McARTHUR —Not one. All the Minister has talked about is the system that everyone wants to be changed. He talked about reform. What reform has he instituted since he has been the Minister? He has talked about potential reform and nothing has come forward. The winds of change are about in Australia in relation to the industrial relations system. Since 1906 we have had the unions, the employers, the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in one system binding employers, sometimes binding employees, with legal arguments and there has been no relationship to economic reality. Yesterday the Business Council of Australia brought forward a policy that runs parallel with the coalition's policy and very much supports the thrust of our proposition that we put forward last May. I will quote from the editorial of the Australian newspaper. It is headed `A breath of fresh air for industry'. It states;

If Australia is to increase its standard of living, it has to be more competitive. To be successful, our industrial enterprises have to break away from the stultifying industrial relations club atmosphere-

That is the one the Minister wants to support-

and have a refreshingly productive new relationship with their work forces.

Historically this has been too hard and too difficult because of the entrenched positions of all parties. The winds of change are now moving with great strength, direction and velocity. Moody's International changed our credit rating. It had this to say about our industrial relations when it made this change:

. . . that one of the reasons for taking away our traditional triple A credit rating was because industrial and labour market rigidities are further expected to hamper the country's ongoing efforts to shift economic resources into areas of high foreign exchange earning capacity.

That is the international appreciation of our performance. We have got surprising support for change from an unsought quarter. An article is headed: `Wage fixing needs more flexibility, says Button'. Fancy that coming from that quarter. Senator Button stated:

All I'm prepared to say is that the wages system has to be a dynamic system which has regard for the needs of the economy.

That is really bringing about change. I wonder why the Minister did not talk to Senator Button in his deliberations? Again, in a survey conducted by Business Review Weekly, headed `Swing against wage policy', it stated:

A majority of the leaders of Australian big business now favours abandonment of centralised wage-fixing according to the latest BRW/Hyatt business survey. The quarterly survey, directed to the chief executives of Australia's top 500 companies, showed that 53 per cent of respondents favoured direct negotiation between employers and employees, with a minimum wage providing a `safety net'.

What a remarkable change in attitude from that quarter. We see evidence of the support of the National Farmers Federation which the Minister suggested was not a major employer body. It is only in control of about 250,000 employees in the rural industry!


Mr MacKellar —How Many?


Mr MCARTHUR —About 250,000-a quarter of a million employees.


Mr N.A. Brown —It is not a mainstream employer?


Mr MCARTHUR —The Minister suggests it is not a mainstream employer. Its contribution to the industrial relations debate has been quite a major one in bringing about change, in moving away from a centralised fixing structure, in having less control of the Arbitration Commission and in supporting our view that there ought to be individual contractual arrangements for those employees in firms employing fewer than 50 people. Again we see a change in attitude which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to. In September 1986 it was reported that 83 per cent of Australians reject compulsory unionism.


Mr N.A. Brown —Of people at large.


Mr MCARTHUR —Of people. When we look at the figures carefully we find that of those 83 per cent, 77 per cent are trade unionists. What a remarkable situation for the Minister to comprehend. He does not even understand what his own people think.

In a wide-ranging survey reported in October 1986 we see that 55 per cent of Australians are in favour of direct employee-employer wage fixing arrangements. In that we see these winds of change. Charlie Fitzgibbon, a well-known Labor man who had been in the Labor Party for some 40 years, suggested flexibility in wage fixing arrangements to provide a more competitive structure with profits being taken into account so that we could become internationally more competitive, as stated in that famous report by the Economic Planning Advisory Council.

Let us look at the policy objectives of the Business Council of Australia. In specific terms it supports almost identically the industrial relations policy put forward by the coalition. Enterprise level agreements is its No. 1 objective that is based on profitability, working conditions and wages at the work place. We just have to think of the Robe River dispute in Western Australia, wheat farmers in central New South Wales and textile workers in Tasmania-all have different working conditions, different terms of profitability and ought to be treated in a different manner. It suggests one negotiation for an enterprise-that is enterprise unions. We have been supporting that ever since we launched our policy. Our policy is that one group negotiate with management for wages and conditions. This is particularly so in the motor car industry, the shipbuilding industry and those industry based groups integrated under the one roof. It suggests binding agreements. Again, we have discussed this at great length with people in industry. We want to see equality under the law for both parties having entered into this particular agreement.

I notice that the New South Wales has backed off in its legislation that potentially provides immunity to trade unionists. So it should because the Business Council does not believe in that. The Business Council believes in a national wages policy. We agree with that thrust. There ought to be a safety net based on an hourly rate to provide a flexible approach. The BCA believes in flexible agreements. I draw the attention of the House to an example of a national camera company in Melbourne which has negotiated with its employees to have a 12-hour day for five days a week. The management and the workers negotiated special conditions. They were very happy with this arrangement to ensure that the plant worked for 12 hours a day. They were happier; they made more money and were able to organise their personal lives in a better manner.

The Council believes in performance-related rewards. The Mudginberri example demonstrated this concept perfectly. It means more output and more money for the workers; and everyone is better off. It believes in efficiency improvements. Shop floor discussions about the way in which the factory should work are not related to the Arbitration Commission. What has the Arbitration Commission got to do with arrangements between the boss and the workers? The Business Council of Australia suggests that freedom of choice of all Australian workers to join a union or not to join a union is an inherent right. The Minister has been suggesting that unionism is not compulsory. I will quote from the Building Industry Shop Stewards Handbook. If compulsory unionism is not so, just listen to what happens on the building sites. I will read from the handbook an instruction to shop stewards:

As a first step, seek to convince the worker of the benefits of unionism and outline some of its achievements-

I wonder about that-

indicate that he would be welcomed into the union and outline his rights.

Now listen to this:

If he still refuses to join after you have made every possible effort to convince him otherwise, you should advise the employer that he is not allowed to start work as it is a union job.

There we have a closed shop. The Minister says that we have no compulsory unionism in Australia. Where is the Minister?


Mr Howard —You are not saying the Prime Minister is telling untruths, are you?


Mr McARTHUR —The Prime Minister indicated that there was no compulsory unionism in Australia. I have read the instruction to the shop stewards. The Business Council believes in employee participation. It gives great emphasis to this. We see this taking place with the Mitsubishi company in trying to establish the way in which the plant should work, policies on the shop floor, profitability and production changes. The conclusions of the Business Council of Australia are in line with our policy. It says that it should be a co-operative arrangement between the employers and the employees. It is a radical plan, like ours, but it will evolve with co-operation by building in good will among unionists, management and Australians. The Business Council is determined to achieve these objectives. Finally, these are very revealing words: The economic capacity and the remuneration of the work force through productive capacity and the ability to pay.


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