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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2055

Senator AULICH(12.32) —I support the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission Bill, which is one of the major advances made by the present Government in its two years of office. It is consistent with the framework of discussions that occurred prior to the election, Labor policy and our approach towards improvement of society in general. It is the result of a great deal of discussion, organisation and hard work on the part of the members of the Interim National Health and Safety Commission and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis). The Minister should be commended for a number of initiatives he has taken in industrial relations. He knows when to talk and when to stop talking and get on with the action. This Bill is an example of that ability.

This Bill is part of the accord. Many workers are still not aware of the benefits of that document to themselves and to Australian society in general. It is interesting to note that some people who live in ivory castles in the financial community in England and New York have indicated some concern in recent discussions with the Treasurer, Mr Keating. One 17-year-old boffin was heard to complain that the union movement in Australia was directing the Government. All this was said 12,000 miles away, in a position of great privilege and a limited life outlook, and from the mouth of a 17-year-old who was about to succeed to his father's financial empire. Some people overseas do not understand what is being achieved in this country in proper, rigorous and intelligent consultation between the union movement, the business community and this Government.

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has been an essential part in that process, initiated by the accession to the leadership of the Party of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). At this stage it is worth looking at parts of that accord. To my knowledge this is the first occasion on which a wages and incomes and social policy which has been organised between the labour movement and a Labor government or a coalition Labor-type government anywhere in the world has been successful. We have often heard of the social contract or variations of it as applied in other countries failing. This accord has worked in Australia because it has been approached in the right way. It is my sincere wish that some people who live 12,000 miles away-or in the case of some Opposition members who live about 12,000 years away from Australia and what is going on in this country-will come to appreciate that what we have in the accord is a unique instrument to enable us to improve the conditions of all people in this society as well as the condition of society itself and Australia's economic performance.

With the agreement, understanding and patience of this chamber, I shall read some of the principles that underlie that accord-the framework within which this Bill has come to this House. I quote from the document:

The Parties have reached agreement that the objective of such an approach--

that is the accord-

should be to protect living standards of Australians including wage and salary earners and non income earning groups. Over time those standards should be increased to reflect the distribution of improved output as measured by national productivity. Additionally, agreement has been reached on the objective of effecting an equitable distribution of real disposable income. It is recognised that maintenance of, or improvement in, living standards may be secured through processes other than by simple money wage increases.

That is a fair statement of this Government's industrial relations and social policy approach which has been clearly indicated in the accord. Again, I indicate some of the features of that accord to put this Bill into proper framework.

Some of the promises the Government makes in the accord need to be pointed out. The Government's record in terms of those promises again ought to be made plain and put on the record in this chamber. I will mention some of the issues which were discussed and which the Government agreed to deliver on. Universal health cover-we have delivered on that. Restructuring tax to ease the burden on low and middle income earners-we will be delivering on that very soon. Tough measures to smash tax avoidance-again we have delivered, with the exception of one or two thrusts which were held up in this House recently, again by people who do not quite understand that it is necessary to smash the tax avoidance industry in this country in order to achieve this equitable redistribution which the accord talks about. An inquiry to improve industrial relations-again, that will be delivered when the report of the Hancock Committee of Review into the Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems is brought down next week. Make immigration family reunion and refugee intake the major criterion for determining migrant intake-we have delivered on that. Enforce standards and provide motivation for States, employees and employers to improve occupational health and safety-we are delivering on that this week. Provide detailed economic planning with trade unions and employer contribution and co-operation-that has been done through the National Economic Summit Conference and the Economic Planning Advisory Council. Again the Government, across the board, has delivered on everything it has promised in that accord. I want this message to get through loud and clear to all shop stewards, to people who work in industry and to people who are watching this Government's performance and in some ways might have overlooked just how important a contribution this accord has been and just how carefully and consistently the Government has applied itself to bringing these matters to fruition.

I am sure that all honourable senators who manage to get out of this chamber from time to time to talk to people on a casual and social basis will understand this: In the community there is the desire for all of us to act in the community interest. I believe that the days of confrontation are over. I believe that the approach to politics of the strong man leading the weak, which appeared to be a fairly accepted viewpoint in the early days of the Fraser Government, has gone. In this chamber I think even some people on the other side are starting to realise that there is another way to do this, their Queensland counterparts notwithstanding.

I normally do not waste my time in political invective. I believe there are more positive things to do in this life than that. But I must admit that the contributions of the Opposition spokesman on industrial relations, Mr Shack, to this whole public debate cannot be overlooked. They are surprising in their naivete and in the degree of support they have received from members of his Party. It is obvious that Mr Shack has been given a Christmas present by his minders and mentors. I guess that that Christmas present could be described as a gift from the Adam Smith toy shop, during one of his previous reincarnations. In other words, he was given the book and the ideas and told to go out and sell them. He has done fairly well. He has fooled a few people. But I think people are starting to wake up. They are starting to wake up when it comes to discussion about Bills such as this. They see that this is in fact a Bill which is setting out to overcome positively some of the problems in our community and that sheer ideology based upon some outdated economic historian of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century is simply not appropriate. Mr Shack has been playing with his toys while adults in the community are going about the serious business of-

Senator Lewis —What makes an idea inappropriate because it is old?

Senator AULICH —If an idea historically fails, it is inappropriate. Adam Smith has failed and to use that as a blueprint for the future obviously indicates just how bereft of ideas the honourable senator's Party is. Mr Shack went into the community and attacked this Bill. He attacks anything which looks as though it smells at all of big government, of consensus or of any attempt at all to work with the union movement. He criticised this proposed National Occupational Health and Safety Commission on the basis that it is too big. He indicated in the form of a question his viewpoint. 'What', he asked, 'will the establishment of this Commission achieve which could not be simply achieved by direct inter-ministerial and departmental contact between the Commonwealth and the States?' I will answer that for Mr Shack because obviously he did not watch the performance of the Fraser Government. I do not know where he was during that period. I presume he voted every now and then. I presume he read some of that Government's outpourings in the Press. I will tell him what this Commission and Government will do. The Government has done what Malcolm Fraser and his friends were not able to do in a period of more than seven years.

I went to a number of ministerial conferences of Ministers for industrial relations. I saw Mr Peacock, Mr Viner, Mr Macphee and Mr Street in action. They were the four Ministers who just happened to go through the position of Minister while I was a Minister in the State Government. There were four Ministers in that short time before they took their place in that holding bay in the sky which the Liberals call thwarted ambition. Every one of those people waited on Malcolm Fraser to find out what to do every time we got to the important issue of structures for industrial relations in this country and also what we were going to do about occupational health. They talked and talked, occasionally set up a working party, and talked again, and finally did nothing. Meanwhile, people were killed and injured on the job and this country lost millions, in fact, billions of dollars if the latest estimations are correct-that is, $6 billion in lost time caused by accidents and injuries on the job. That is simply not good enough. What has happened in this place is that we have brought in a Bill which provides a framework for us all to move forward in a co-operative way. Madam Acting Deputy President, at this stage I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.