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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 2975


Mr GAYLER —Can the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations advise the House what reduction has occurred in the level of industrial disputation since the Hawke Government came to office? What are the prospects of continuing to achieve reduced levels of industrial disputation in the future?


Mr WILLIS —Since the Hawke Government came to office there has, indeed, been a big reduction in the level of industrial disputation measured by working days lost in industrial disputes. The figures released by the Bureau of Statistics today show that for the 12 months to January of this year 1.4 million days were lost in industrial disputes, which is fewer than in any year to January for any year of the Fraser Government. An even better illustration is the fact that the average number of working days lost under the Fraser Government was three million per annum, whereas the number of working days lost under the Hawke Government was 1.4 million-a reduction of 53 per cent in the average number of working days lost since this Government came to office.

Of course, a proper analysis does not look just at the total number of working days lost but relates that to the number of wage and salary earners. Since this Government came to office there has been a 60 per cent reduction in the number of working days lost per thousand employees; that is, the average number of working days lost per thousand employees under the Hawke Government is 60 per cent less than the number under the previous Government. That is an enormous reduction by anyone's standards. It is a particularly enormous achievement, given that in the first three years of our four years in office there were very high rates of economic growth. They were not years in which one would normally expect to see big reductions in the level of industrial disputation. Also, as the House would be aware, that very large fall in the level of industrial disputation has been accompanied by a further large fall in real unit labour costs. There has been a 7 per cent reduction in real unit labour costs whilst we have achieved a much better industrial relations environment. So we certainly were not buying off the workers to achieve industrial peace. That allegation cannot be made.

The reasons that we achieved that enormous improvement are attributable to the prices and incomes accord and the atmosphere of co-operation and not confrontation which this Government has engendered, which was based on the prices and incomes accord, and the very sensible wages policy which has been pursued by this Government in accordance with that accord, which has been varied to fit the times, as we have seen recently with the two-tier wage system. All of that has brought about a very substantial reduction in the level of industrial disputation in relation to wage issues, because they have been very largely set by decisions of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

We are not resting on our laurels. The Government, whilst it has been achieving that spectacular reduction in the level of industrial disputation, has been working on a comprehensive industrial relations legislation reform package which will be brought before this Parliament by me later this week. That reform package will provide the basis of further improvements in industrial relations outcomes. With this legislation and with the new two-tier wage system, we can be hopeful that further reductions can be made in the level of industrial disputation. However, I must say that there is one qualification; that is, if the Opposition were by some mischance to become the government of this country, the people of Australia could not have that expectation of further reductions or even the maintenance of a relatively low level of industrial disputation. We know, from the published policy, that the Opposition's policy is based on confrontation and not co-operation-the reverse of what this Government has pursued. It would introduce chaos through its so-called voluntary agreements policy, which would undoubtedly provoke a rash of industrial disputes as various groups sought to achieve increases which other workers had achieved, leading, undoubtedly, to a much higher level of industrial disputation.

Only recently we saw that the Liberal Party secretariat, in a leaked document, was advising the Leader of the Opposition that he should be prepared, if he became Prime Minister, for a general strike. So quite clearly the Liberal Party secretariat was saying: `We realise that our policies will bring industrial relations to such a bad state that we will even face the prospect of a general strike'. If that is what the Liberal Party secretariat, the advisers to the Opposition, are telling the Opposition, surely we are entitled to assume that the Opposition in government would certainly mean that there would be a far higher level of industrial disputation than the level that has been achieved by this Government and that the prospects for low industrial disputation rest solely on this Government remaining in office.