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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3315


Mr PUNCH(3.43) —This House has just been treated to the wild thrashings, yet again, of a desperate, divided and sinking Opposition, without policies of its own, which sits on the other side of the chamber and settles for nothing more than a cliche-led scare campaign as a substitute for policy. The Opposition has cited today the employers' opposition to the Government's proposed legislation. There is little wonder that there is some opposition from business in some quarters with so many misleading and inaccurate claims being made, chiefly by honourable members opposite.

In this House this afternoon there has been yet another attempt at a scare campaign by the Opposition. This afternoon we have seen, once again, plenty of cliches and even quotations from the 1970s. However, not once was there a reference to the actual intent or substance of the Government's proposals. Like so many past scare campaigns of those opposite, this one will not last long. Like so many others before it, this one will prove to be false. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) claimed before the last election that the gold fillings in pensioners' teeth would be subjected to the assets test. This scare campaign on industrial relations legislation has as much credibility and basis in fact as that campaign had, and it will be consigned to the dustbin of misleading accusations as that one was.

The Government's intention is effectively to replace the old bans clauses, which both sides of the House would agree, have never worked in industrial relations, with an effective process. The Government's intention is to bring legislation before this House whereby each member of the proposed Industrial Relations Commission will be empowered to order a direction befitting an industrial matter and whereby any party aggrieved by the process can seek enforcement of that direction, whereupon a certificate can be issued leaving the new Labour Court to grant an injunction. Far from curtailing employers' rights, this is a codification of rights of all parties in industrial relations.

Substantial provisions relating to penalties for non-compliance are in the legislation and have been announced publicly. What this all means is that where an industrial action can be dealt with by a Labour Court injunction and, therefore, by definition, is an industrial matter equivalent to a common law injunction for enforcement, an employer will be excluded from seeking a civil injunction for the same industrial action in a State court. That is the basis of the change as it relates to common law. There is no great conspiracy in it. It must be said that all of it is common sense. It stops the double legalism and, it must be said, employers do not miss out. The only people to miss out in this exercise will be the lawyers. It has been the intent of all parties in industrial relations for decades to reduce excessive legalism and to concentrate on dispute resolution. That is the objective of the Government's changes and that will be the result.

Two things must be said at this stage. They are matters which the Opposition has refused to acknowledge. Nothing in the intended legislation curtails an employer's ability to seek compensatory damages under common law, that is, the traditional tort, where economic loss is sustained. Two matters must be attached to that. The publicly declared intent of the Government is that penalties for non-adherence will be up to 10 times greater than those applicable now and that common law injunctions, which historically have been of little use to employers, simply because they have been inadequate in their processes, will be codified in this legislation.

As it relates to sections 45d and 45e, the Government's accent is again an intent to remove the various processes from the Trade Practices Act and transfer them to the new Labour Court. On the face of it, this should be logical enough. If sections 45d and 45e are to be used in an industrial relations matter it follows by definition that they should be before a court whose charter relates to industrial relations. It is a basic question of accent between the Government and the Opposition. The Opposition is content, once again, with nothing more than cliche, rhetoric and union bashing. The Government's intent is to put into practice, by way of legislation, further and better proposals for dispute resolution. The record speaks for itself in that regard, as the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) has already said.

The simple difference between the Government and the Opposition in terms of sections 45d and 45e is that the Government is seeking to build into the process a pre-litigation conciliation step, once again to remove excessive legalism and to underlie the accent on the need for dispute resolution. In a nutshell, it means that, far from removing employer accessibility, the Government's proposal codifies existing practice and makes it much more workable. It must be said that this will suit the vast majority of employers in this country once they are aware of the process-once they are aware of the intent and what it is all about. The vast majority of employers in this country are not backed by New Right slush funds. They do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars for Queen's Counsel and solicitors to run end to end for years at a time and they do not go rushing off to the Federal Court. Rather, they are more intent on seeking a lasting dispute resolution to any matter that is affecting their business and thereby this country's economy. In other words, the vast majority of employers in this country are not interested in another break-out of ideological warfare between labour and capital that those on the other side of the House are totally preoccupied with in these times. Rather, they are interested in dispute resolution; they are interested in a continuation and an enhancement of the now spectacular decrease in industrial disputes that this country enjoys under this Government.

What those opposite have been saying about the removal of penalties under sections 45d and 45e in these changes is, again, a lot of hogwash. Let there be no doubt, and let it be underlined in this House today, that all parties, including the unions, will continue to be subjected to the penalties under the Trade Practices Act, notwithstanding the removal of those sections from the Trade Practices Act and placement under the Labour Court. Those opposite, instead of standing in this House with cliches, ridicule, rhetoric and all the rest they go on with as a substitute for policy should refer to clause 63 (2) of the Industrial Relations Bill. It is readily available. They will find that the provisions for penalties that now exist under the Trade Practices Act are being transported to this legislation.

In short, once again we have seen the Opposition intent on the old ideology of conflict, contrasted with what this Government is about in trying to get all Australians, unions, capital and government working together in one direction. It seems that those opposite are intent on restoring excessive legalism to the industrial relations system to the detriment of all parties concerned, to the detriment of logical dispute resolution in this country and to the benefit of no one except those with New Right slush funds of hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy justice, as they would see it, and the lawyers concerned who happen to be fortunate enough to get the briefs.

I conclude by pointing out the results of the business poll conducted by the Business Review Weekly and the Hyatt Hotel last week. It stated that nearly 56 per cent of the top managers of Australian corporations described this Government's performance as either quite good or very good. In fact, the current Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), such as he is, could not even manage to run first on his own side of politics. He was behind Mr John Elliott. Is it little wonder that such a poll comes out when those opposite know nothing of industrial relations. They relate nothing of the industrial relations proposal in specifics in the debate in this House today, but rather they attempt to divert the public's attention with a whole lot of misleading statements?


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